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November 30, 2012 2:56 PM Another Reason Obama Should Avoid Self-Negotiation

By Ed Kilgore

Earlier today I noted Ezra Klein’s astute observation that Barack Obama has decided not to “negotiate with himself” in the fiscal talks by initially offering anything other than the preferred formula he’d pursue if Republicans were suddenly lifted up in the Rapture or driven into madness by all the soul-struggling they’re pretending to do.

But there’s another reason other than gamesmanship why Obama should avoid moving in the direction of the GOP until they’ve moved first: Republicans desperately want Democrats to throw them into the briar patch of Medicare cuts that they spent much of the last four years pretending to deplore. Jonathan Chait sums up their quandry in a manner than his powers of logic and sarcasm best equip him to do:

The Republican positioning on Medicare has set the tone for the current budget impasse. Obama is asking for $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenue. Republicans are demanding more spending cuts, but they won’t say how much they want, let alone what specifically they will cut. The current party thinking on Medicare, sanctified by Romney and Ryan, has defined itself as matching or even outspending Obama on Medicare for anybody aged 55 and up. That would lock out any budget savings at all for the next decade, and make any savings roll in extremely slowly afterward.
Republicans could present a plan like that in negotiations — deep Medicare cuts that don’t start to take effect until 2022. But, since the two sides have already cut discretionary spending to the bone, that would necessarily require that any deal necessarily have far more tax hikes than spending cuts over the next decade. But Republicans don’t want that, either. It’s not clear that their goals can be expressed at all, at least not in arithmetically coherent form.
Hence their current demand that Obama formulate a proposed slate of entitlement spending cuts on their behalf. Right now Republicans seem to need Obama to conduct both sides of the negotiation.

If Obama refuses to put Medicare cuts “on the table,” then Republicans will either have to abandon the Mediscare tactics that are so important to their ability to hang onto their voting base of white seniors, or propose insane cuts elsewhere, or just give in, or just obstruct any deal and let the Bush tax cuts expire (quickly followed by a middle-class tax cut they dare not oppose) along with defense cuts that will freak out their militarist wing. They are indeed deep in a trap of their own design.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • lou on November 30, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Easier to govern when you don't have to do ANY math.

  • BillFromPA on November 30, 2012 3:17 PM:

    We can't be beaten in this game unless we blow it ourselves. Obama has played his first card, we need do nothing at all until the repugs play their first, and it wouldn't hurt to remind the public of this. I've shown you mine, show me yours. Don't wanna play? Then it's over the cliff and, by the way, here's a Senate bill cutting taxes on the 99%, do your magic, Boehner. The repugs have no way out unless we give them one.

  • T2 on November 30, 2012 3:26 PM:

    I'd like to see Obama out travelling the country presenting his ideas like he did today at minimum twice a week from here to Jan.1. Keep the pressure on. From their comments yesterday and today, I think McConnell and Boner know they are in trouble. Until they come forward with a detailed, written counter offer, the president and the Senate have no need to do anything but watch the GOPers dance. Goofballs like Louie Goelert out there spouting about using the debt ceiling as "leverage" only adds to the public perception of the GOP being out of touch. As many have said the last day or so, caving and accepting the Senate plan actually takes away some Dem leverage.....but the Norquist GOP will never willingly raise taxes on the rich, will they?

  • beejeez on November 30, 2012 3:29 PM:

    Dammit, Kilgore, you are getting my hopes up. Just ... just shut up, OK?

  • samuel Knight on November 30, 2012 3:57 PM:

    This works in 2 ways;

    1) The 3rd rail - every American poitician knows you can't touch Social Security and Medicare. You can drone on about improving - but never, ever propose real reductions that anyone can understand. So the game is simple - get the other idiot to do it.

    2) No specifics. The GOP has been great at making big bombastic pronouncements for years. And the Dems lousy at asking for specifics (maybe because they thought they were smarter and figured they just might as well do the math for these dumbies). They never pushed for specifics before voting on the Iraq War. Never pushed for specifics on the cuts in 2011, etc. Well now maybe it occurred to them - we just need to ask them for specifics.

    3) Toughness. The GOP has been great at acing tough for years. But in reality they've been a bunch of whiny ninnies - afraid of terrorists, women, blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, etc. Rather than being adults dealing with the realities of the world - they've been the spoiled children - throwing tantrums, inventing little fantasy worlds and lying like 6 year olds. Well maybe it occurred to folks that the way to be the adult in the room is not to give into the tantrum but just call the kids on it. And when the kid has to retreat - it's not pretty.

  • BillFromPA on November 30, 2012 4:02 PM:

    We can't be beaten in this game unless we blow it ourselves. Obama has played his first card, we need do nothing at all until the repugs play their first, and it wouldn't hurt to remind the public of this. I've shown you mine, show me yours. Don't wanna play? Then it's over the cliff and, by the way, here's a Senate bill cutting taxes on the 99%, do your magic, Boehner. The repugs have no way out unless we give them one.

  • sjw on November 30, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Democrats can't squeeze the Republicans' nuts hard enough. Get out the vise! It's payback time, baby.

  • T2 on November 30, 2012 4:47 PM:

    agreed with all the above, but don't forget the Media's tendency to see things a little differently than we do. I've already heard some Pundit's worrying about Obama being too mean to the GOPers and it can easily turn to "Obama's refusal to compromise will drive us over the Cliff".....he has to be shrewd and know when to push and when to cool his heels and let the Conservatives cook their own goose.

  • Ron Byers on November 30, 2012 4:50 PM:

    What this proves is the Republicans aren't really serious about solving the deficit. They are all hat and no cattle.

    Obama has outlined serious tax increases which the public approves. It is up to Republicans to outline serious deficit reductions which the public is bound to hate.

    Apparently the Republicans are shocked, shocked I tell you, that Obama has learned from his first experience dealing with them.

    I have never seen grownups so easily outmanuvered

  • howard on November 30, 2012 6:59 PM:

    once again i say the best plan is to send congress home, let the "cliff" happen, and then lets the republicans have the time of their lives in january voting to cut taxes and raise defense spending.

  • Doug on November 30, 2012 9:22 PM:

    "It's not clear that their goals can be expressed at all; at least not in arithmetically coherent form." Jonathan Chait cited by Ed Kilgore

    Goals that can't be expressed or dare not be expressed? When your goal is the destruction of SS/Medicare/Medicaid/SNAP and any other safety net program, I'd imagine the less said to the electorate; ie, potential voters, the better.
    As for being being "arithmetically coherent"; Republicans lost that under Reagan (see "voodoo economics").

  • emjayay on November 30, 2012 11:33 PM:

    Since there isn't an eviseration of today's David Brooks column here today, and since it's relevant, a quote:

    "Raising the top tax rates may not be as cataclysmic for the economy as some have argued, but this is still one of the most growth-killing ways to raise revenue."

    No, David, it is the single least growth killing way to raise revenue. And it's a marginal rate. Back to the Clinton years. Which was lower than ever before in anyone alive's memory. And, oh forget it......

    Aaaaarrrrggghhh.

  • Neildsmith on December 01, 2012 4:18 AM:

    "their ability to hang onto their voting base of white seniors"

    During lunch at a restaurant Friday I overheard one of those white seniors express a fear that America was in as much danger today as we were on December 7, 1941. A fellow diner asked him, incredulously, "Why?!" and he replied "Our current President."

    I wanted to jump out of my chair and whack the selfish old geezer upside the head. It's hard to give a crap what happens to those kind of people. I wish we could find a way to punish the GOP base of white seniors without hurting anyone else. I'm suddenly in favor of death panels for all of them!