Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 28, 2011

HOW NOT TO NEGOTIATE, 101.... In just 11 days, if policymakers in D.C. do not strike a compromise on a budget for this fiscal year, the government will shut down. There were some high-level talks last week, but by all indications, they went very poorly.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are prepared to do even more to make Republicans even happier.

The White House and Democratic lawmakers, with less than two weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, are assembling a proposal for roughly $20 billion in additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to people close to the budget talks.

That would come on top of $10 billion in cuts that Congress has already enacted and would represent a deeper reduction than the Obama administration and Senate Democrats had offered previously in negotiations. But it isn't clear that would be enough to satisfy Republicans, who initially sought $61 billion in spending cuts and face pressure from tea-party activists not to compromise.

Now, I haven't seen confirmation of this elsewhere, and the Wall Street Journal isn't always the most reliable of sources, especially when it comes to Democratic plans.

But just for the sake of conversation, let's say this is accurate. It would mean that Democrats are prepared to give Republicans about $30 billion in cuts, just for this fiscal year, just to make the GOP happy enough to let the government stay open -- at least until the next spending fight.

Some of you might be thinking, "Wait, $30 billion in cuts sounds kind of familiar." That's because we've seen this figure before -- back in February, House Republican leaders had no intention of keeping their campaign promise, and instead proposed about $30 billion in cuts.

At the time -- we're talking about just six weeks ago -- Democrats thought this level of reductions was outrageous, and they were right. Indeed, the $30 billion in cuts was considered so severe, one report referred to the proposal as "the GOP Chainsaw Massacre."

And yet, here we are in late March, and now Democrats are prepared to accept the exact same number used by Republican leaders, and it seems likely GOP lawmakers still won't think this is good enough. Indeed, rank-and-file Republicans balked at their own leadership's plan when $30 billion in cuts were put on the table, and it stands to reason the caucus won't be any more impressed now that a similar offer is presented by Dems.

But putting aside whether this is likely to work, the lesson I'd like Democrats to take from this is simple: you're not good at negotiating. Republicans approved a ridiculous proposal, pushing the extreme in one direction, knowing that negotiations would ensue. One need not be a game theorist to know those talks would go better if Dems had pushed in the opposite direction.

That way, when the two sides tried to meet "in the middle," that middle would be in a more favorable location.

But, no. The discussion boiled down to one side that wanted to cut a little, and one side that wanted to cut a lot. The new Democratic offer is effectively the same as the old Republican leadership's offer. Adding insult to injury, the original GOP leaders' plan was itself supposed to be the starting point for negotiations, and was expected to move closer to the Democratic position in order to find a compromise.

That's what would have happened if, (a) the GOP's rank-and-file weren't quite so hysterical, and (b) Dems were better at this game.

Update: It looks like Ezra is thinking along the same lines.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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The United States Congress -- made up of one party that is insane and another party that is invertebrate.

Posted by: SteveT on March 28, 2011 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

I talked to a relative this weekend who works for NASA, and he said this whole Continuing Resolution thing is making their work very difficult. NASA needs to know what their budget is, and what they are supposed to be working on, which is directed by the budget. Right now, they are just taking an educated guess, and working on things they assume will be in the budget, but they don't know for sure.

He was frustrated and said that this is the most inefficient way to run things - you have a bunch of well-educated, highly skilled workers with no clear marching orders...they might as well just be playing solitaire on their computers until the budget gets resolved.

Posted by: delNorte on March 28, 2011 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

If this is the way it unfolds one can come to but two conclusions. The Democrats are either idiots or corrupt.

The question becomes, 'How can you support a party which is clearly dominated by people who fit this description?'

I would suggest that if this is how things go down, perhaps it is time for the Democratic Party to go the way of the Wigs. To dry up and blow away. We don't need two Republican Parties. We need an alternative to the Republican Party.

Posted by: SW on March 28, 2011 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Okay , now I have read that the WSJ , a reliable reactionary view peddler , has scooped some enviable and perversely satisfying news of exactly what they wanted .
I am perversely hoping it is twaddle , from a purveyor of the right wing style Ebola , the hemorrhaging misinformation joys from every breaking synapse .

Posted by: FRP on March 28, 2011 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Kill ag subsidies. Totally and immediately.

Kill energy production subsidies. Totally and immediately.

Listen to the sweet, sweet sound of rethug whining.

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki on March 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Surely there must be some classes we could send Dem leaders to, that would teach them effective bargaining and negotiation strategies.

And the approach of giving massive concessions before even reaching the bargaining table doesn't just weaken the Dems' immediate negotiating position; it turns off their supporters as well, which reduces their prospects for electoral success.

We've already seen this movie.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on March 28, 2011 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Make. The. House. Pass. a. Bill.

All this talk of negotiations makes Boehners job easier. Get the lunatics in the house to vote on whatever they want, then hold it up to the American people, and see if they are really buying what the GOP is selling.

Posted by: bignose on March 28, 2011 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

SW: surely the answer is corrupt. In terms of intelligence and political talent, there's not a dime's worth of difference among your average Congressional hack. They're all opportunists. And that's fine; that's how the system was set up to work (as opposed to starry-eyed visions of "good government," noble statesmen, etc.)

And it's well known (1) that the first stop on any campaign trail is Wall Street, and (2) they're all looking forward to the US version of amakudari, ie, descent into a cushy finance-related job when they retire.

And the Obama WH is right in there with the rest of them.

Posted by: bleh on March 28, 2011 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

"Kill all Ag subsidies"

Vilsack would be at the head of the line of whiners.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 28, 2011 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

I really really really really really really really really really really really really hope that report isn't accurate.

Posted by: Alrighty Then on March 28, 2011 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'm am so sick of this country being run by greedy liars and outlaws.

Posted by: Schtick on March 28, 2011 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

You know how you spot a Democratic politician in any crowd?

He/she is the one waving the white flag.

Jellyfish are made of sterner stuff...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 28, 2011 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

The Wall Street Journal: a Rupert Murdoch publication. Would he tolerate inaccurate or dishonest reporting?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 28, 2011 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

All this talk of "Democratic Spines" misses the point. We are talking here about the Washington Generals and the Harlem Globetrotters.

The players may come and go, but while on the court they draw their salary from the same corporate masters.

And our taxes buy the tickets that make the show possible.

Posted by: DAY on March 28, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Dems aren't "better at this game" because too many of them - as opposed to all Republicans - are funded by entities who want them to play the game just this way.

Unless and until we have true campaign finance reform, wherein politicians are freed from the shackles of those with deep pockets, we will never have any movement toward equality. Full stop.

Posted by: terraformer on March 28, 2011 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats take their "lead" from Obama. His hands-off approach, coupled with ridiculously generous concessions even before getting to the negotiating table, have repeatedly resulted in bad deals for not just Democrats but for the majority of Americans generally.

Posted by: sjw on March 28, 2011 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Incompetent or corrupt? The correct answer is "both."

There are two distinct wings of the Dem party. There is a thoroughly corrupt corporatist wing, the Third-Way wing. And there is a thoroughly incompetent liberal wing.

The Third-Way wing agrees with the GOP on 90% of economic matters. And they are more than happy to meet the GOP on spending cuts and tax cuts. And, yes, the WH is firmly in this camp.

Then there is the liberal camp. These people are gullible suckers and horrifically lousy negotiators. In fact, half the time they are making concessions and they don't even realize that they are negotiating.

That is because the liberals are stupid enough to believe that many of the Third-Way Dems are on the side of the liberals. These are the eternally-optimistic dummies who are always saying how they find Obama "frustrating" but "keep hoping" that Obama will do the right thing.

The irony is that liberals do not need to leave the Democratic party; liberals make up the majority of the Democratic Party. What they need to do is pull their heads out of their asses and realize that people who are proposing $30B in cuts are not liberals and need to be beaten out of the party leadership.

Posted by: square1 on March 28, 2011 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

There are, in my mind, two things in play here. First we have a known right wing paper claiming the inside scoop that the Dems are preparing a 20 bil. concession on budget cuts. That needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt.
Second, I could find no mention about WHAT those cuts entailed.
I have no issue with cutting 20 billion from the budget. My concern is from where it is cut.

Posted by: Bobsled on March 28, 2011 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty much inclined along the lines of what @Bobsled said.

Posted by: June on March 28, 2011 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

In a conflicted negotiation between two parties representing different constituencies, the wise path is to find a win/win solution that will make each party look good to its constituents. (In fact, a solution I once used to win a terrible battle against an entrenched establishment on the ropes of public opinion.)

But, of course, that can't possibly work when one party is committed to making the other look bad.

One side is fighting a political civil war while the other is trying to govern. So when all is lost in the end, who's fault will it have been? Certainly the side that didn't even notice that there was a war on.

Posted by: jTh on March 28, 2011 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Senate Democrats are actually great at negotiating. They just don't want the same results we do.

Posted by: Big River Bandido on March 28, 2011 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

If you guys think this is bad, wait until they start putting together NEXT YEARS budget.

Posted by: T2 on March 28, 2011 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

There is nothing in the article that says what the cuts are and specifically says the Rethugs rejected the last $11 Billion offer as "gimmickry". [Pot meet kettle]. Also, the Rethugs pulled a blindside on the basis of negotiations to force deeper cuts.

Let's assume that the Democratic negotiators have concluded that there is no rational way to deal with the Republicans until public unrest cuts the legs out from under the Teabaggers. That means the Administration and Senate have to prepare for a shutdown.

Then it is a sound tactic to put out half of the radical side's proposal with 2/3 of the cuts in areas the Radical side have refused to consider but are popular with the public.

Posted by: OKDem on March 28, 2011 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

The OMB has reported that for FY2011, revenues won't cover mandatory outlays, much less discretionary spending. If we taxed all income over $1 million at 100%, we would still have to cut about $400+ billion to zero the deficit (and still do nothing to help the debt).
So exactly how does $10 billion mean swat ?
Denial isn't a river in Egypt.

Posted by: Neo on March 28, 2011 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

And yet, here we are in late March, and now Democrats are prepared to accept the exact same number used by Republican leaders, and it seems likely GOP lawmakers still won't think this is good enough.

Gee, who could have ever seen this coming?

Posted by: kc on March 28, 2011 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe, just maybe at this point the Democrats know that no one is really negotiating. And they're just trying to make it clear to the public whose fault the shut-down will be. But I'm probably giving them way too much credit.

Posted by: T-Rex on March 28, 2011 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

For years, the idea of there being more than two legitimate parties in this nation has been dismissed. However, with the apparent rise of the TPers, could we headed for the days of coalition goverment? In 2006, the Greens in Germany only polled a little over 11%. Yesterday, with the aid of a coalition member SDU, the Greens swept the long time CDU from power in Baden-Wurttemberg. Amazing how fast events can turn. Are we headed in that direction?

Posted by: berttheclock on March 28, 2011 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

This looks like a 'deal': Republicans get to claim they MADE Democrats give in, when the figure is both what they originally proposed until the Tea Partiers kicked in, and what the Dems proposed.

The rest looks to me like smoke and mirrors, overheated rhetoric from Republicans and cool disdain for them by Democrats.

Posted by: jjm on March 28, 2011 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Surrender monkeys with their piecemeal capitulation!

Are not the dumbocraps in the senate following the lead of The Obomination?

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 28, 2011 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks again, 2008 voters, for electing terrible negotiators and putting us in this mess.

Posted by: Notorious P.A.T. on March 28, 2011 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

if the govt is shut down April 18, are my taxes still due then? Will the IRS website even be open?

Posted by: bigtuna on March 28, 2011 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Democrats thought this level of reductions was outrageous, and they were right. Indeed, the $30 billion in cuts was considered so severe, one report referred to the proposal as 'the GOP Chainsaw Massacre'."

A little perspective, please. $30 billion is less than 0.8% -- that's eight-tenths of 1 percent -- of the federal budget. What sensible person believes that a 0.8% spending cut is a "chainsaw massacre"???

Posted by: David on March 28, 2011 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

I with Bobsled and June, all this "story" does is give the Republican/Teabaggers another sxcuse to blame Democrats for not suggesting what to cut in the Budget; which, by the way, is still in limbo. The Republican/Teabaggers most likely don't even HAVE a complete Budget drawn up yet and here we are with people moaning about Democratic inability to negotiate. Negotiate what? Let the Republican/Teabaggers PRODUCE a complete Budget and THEN negotiatate about passing it.
But don't let sense get in the way of your Dem bashing...

Posted by: Doug on March 28, 2011 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

Obama, if he has any calcium in his spine, can't use it because Harry Reid is the worst Senate Majority Leader ever.

If there's a good side, it's that the average protest voter or stay-at-homer knows they screwed the pooch. It's a good thing that the GOP knows only attack and arrogance; because they're pouring it on and it's most likely going to cost them.

I say "most likely" because Harry Reid is still in office.

Posted by: Sebastian on March 28, 2011 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK



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