Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 20, 2011

A DEBT AGREEMENT BY THE END OF JUNE? DON'T COUNT ON IT.... In his speech of debt reduction last week, President Obama talked about bipartisan breakthroughs that have occurred in recent memory: "Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations. The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit. President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously, disagreed on just about everything, but they still found a way to balance the budget."

With that in mind, in the same speech, Obama noted Vice President Biden "will begin regular meetings" in a few weeks "with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit and get it done by the end of June."

The president mentioned this again yesterday, telling a town-hall audience, "I'm optimistic. I'm hopeful. Both sides have come together before. I believe we can do it again."

Now would be a good time to lower expectations.

The White House's proposed deficit talks with Congress appear to be unraveling before they've even begun.

House and Senate Republican leaders announced Tuesday that their sole appointees to the May 5th meeting would be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) -- neither of whom are budget leaders and both of whom function largely as political mouthpieces for their party. GOP leaders also each opted to send only one appointee, instead of the requested four, to the meeting.

No matter what one might think of Kyl and Cantor, the truth is, these aren't the two officials a caucus would chose if the goal is doing actual work -- they're not wonks, they don't understand budgets, and they're knee-jerk partisans with no record whatsoever of negotiating in good faith.

Republicans didn't like Simpson/Bowles, they disapproved of Rivlin/Domenici, they hated President Obama's plan because it hurt their feelings, they probably won't care for the Gang of Six plan, and now they're choosing not to take Biden-led discussions seriously.

For a bunch of conservatives who claim to be obsessed with debt reduction, far-right GOP leaders don't seem especially interested in actually working on the issue.

There's probably a good reason for this. As Matt Yglesias noted this morning, we have "conservative politicians refusing to make a serious effort to reach an agreement out of some blend of taxophobia and fear of giving the President a win." That sounds about right.

But whatever the motivation, the notion of Republicans agreeing to any kind of sensible compromise seems remote, if not ridiculous.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Reid: "What we want is for you to pass a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling, and budget talks must include reinstating taxes on millionaires"

Kyl: "Sure Harry. But I don't mean that in any kind of factual way"

Posted by: bignose on April 20, 2011 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

It is always, always all about projection when you deal with these people.

Republican folly caused an economic catastrophe. leading to the election of President Obama.

Nothing will do except causing another economic catastrophe, which they will then use to argue for election of a Republican adminstration.

Posted by: rea on April 20, 2011 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

If the President is doing this to keep up appearances so that the low information 'independent voter' will believe that he is involved in a good faith effort to come to an agreement, fine. If on the other hand he actually believes that he can negotiate with these people and come to an agreement that will be good for the country, he is an idiot. Since I don't really believe that he is an idiot, let's assume that this is some form of Kabuki. In order for it to be effective, at some point he has to turn on them. He has to throw up his hands in exasperation and call them out. Declare to the world what is obvious. That these people are acting in bad faith, and then hammer them mercilessly. It is the second half of that equation that we are all a little nervous about. But it is understandable that he hasn't trotted that out yet. It is still too early in the process. The undecided portion of the electorate is just too stupid.

Posted by: SW on April 20, 2011 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Can we give up on "bipartisanship" now?

Posted by: martin on April 20, 2011 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Sounds like the classic Republic approach to these things -- as with Baucus's health care "gang" and, I predict, the Gang of Six. It's the old used car salesman trick of the salesman having no real negotiating power with everything having to be approved by the manager. Thus, the hapless customer is bamboozled into negotiating against himself.

If I were the President, I would refuse to enter into discussions unless the negotiating team has real authority, backed up by unambiguous public statements and confirmation.

Posted by: Dave in DC on April 20, 2011 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Can't these children be sent to their rooms without their supper until the agree to come out and play nice?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 20, 2011 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

The only thing that Republicans are interested in cutting are top-tier tax rates. Everything else is an illusion. As long as Obama keeps tax cuts off the table, the GOP will not be serious about cutting spending.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on April 20, 2011 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Good riddance. This was an "effort" that really needed killing.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on April 20, 2011 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans refuse to negotiate to resolve the debt problem in a good faith, bipartisan forum? Good.

That moves them one more step further out on the gangplank.

Posted by: chi res on April 20, 2011 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

There is no dealing with people whose GOD is a pile of money they think the government has and that it should not have: it belongs in their pockets.

I just recall the SHOCKED look on Ryan's face when Obama combatted the Republicans' desire to just get everyone to 'just use Health Savings Accounts' during the summit he held with Republicans on HCR.

Obama said, "Yes, you can say that when you earn $178,000 year as a congressman. What if you only made $40,000 a year?"

The thought of earning THAT LITTLE had apparently never even entered his mind, ever.

Posted by: jjm on April 20, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Scene: Joe Biden in an empty conference room. Voiceover "We invited the Republicans for budget talks, where are they?"
Joe fiddles with his keys, then we see him playing Angry Birds on an iPhone. He gets another cup of coffee, still alone, pan to the open empty doorway cobwebs in the corners.
Voiceover "If they're serious about solving America's pressing problems,"
List of items pan across the screen ... jobs, economy, health care, deficit, wall street reform,
"they know were to find us."
Joe flips a pencil, fade out.

Posted by: Wacky Librul on April 20, 2011 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Of course Cantor is a wonk--he wears glasses doesn't he? Reminds me of a good post by one of my favorite bloggers: "Cantor is the opposite of a wonk" http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_06/024524.php

Posted by: Miki on April 20, 2011 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

"...fear of giving the President a win."

One of the tactics in the Republican playbook is to seek to turn an opponent's strength into a weakness. President Obama campaigned on bringing people together. This benign assertion has become, in part, a source of the GOP's determination not to make deals with Obama.

Posted by: Chris on April 20, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Vice President Biden "will begin regular meetings" in a few weeks "with leaders in both parties...

... When he wakes up.

Posted by: cwolf on April 20, 2011 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK
Now would be a good time to lower expectations.

Why? Lowering explanations just reduces the degree of blame for failure; I'm pretty sure the White House wants there to be blame in the case of failure, and is working almost as hard to build a narrative in which there will be blame and it will land where they want it to in the case of failure as they are at making sure that, if Republican leaders are willing to negotiate in good faith, there is no failure to worry about.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 20, 2011 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Debt: few of us appreciate (?), that the US shouldn't be owing anyone interest on anything. The US government should have a system to loan to itself, and keep all it's own "interest". Any money it pays in interest to anyone, is wasted money that could have been saved via a properly designed Reserve/monetary system.
For more, see http://www.paxvillagevoice.org/surplus_trade_dollars.html

Posted by: neil b. on April 20, 2011 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

What sort of BS is this? President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously, disagreed on just about everything, but they still found a way to balance the budget.
Not a single Republican voted for Clinton's deficit reducing budget. Not a single one.

Posted by: kitsune on April 20, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

It might be good to keep in mind that on this issue, Obama and the democrats are not necessarily the ones that are hard pressed to deliver a bipartisan compromise and passed legislation.

They want the dept ceiling raised and a 2012 budget passed, but they don't necessarily really want a deal of big spending cuts across the board.

In much the same way, failing to reach a compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts one more time leads to what is probably the dems prefered deficit spending measure - revoking all Bush tax cuts.

So it's not necessarily obvious why progressives or the admin should worry much if there's not too much progress done this time around, we only need to pretend we do.

Posted by: Danny on April 20, 2011 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

No matter what one might think of Kyl and Cantor, the truth is, these aren't the two officials a caucus would chose if the goal is doing actual work —

A caucus wouldn't CHOOSE those two officials if the goal were to do any actual work. And whatever it is that you were trying to say.

Posted by: josef on April 20, 2011 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

At least with Kyl, the Obama folks ought to know by now that he is the worst combination of policy-ignorance, bluster, and bad faith. They know he is the kind of guy who will play politics with national security--nuclear warheads no less--as he did in his breathtakingly cynical performance in the Start treaty. They know he will make up nonsense and call it fact on the Senate floor. They know he has no independent thoughts. He is a puppet of McConnell. Any assumptions the White House might have about two sides coming together for the good of the country are misplaced if the other side is sending Kyl.

Posted by: wesfromga on April 20, 2011 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK
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