Political Animal


November 29, 2012 8:53 AM The Deal Going Down—But Not Without Kabuki

By Ed Kilgore

I make a lot of derisive comments about Politico here, and for good reason. But there’s no doubt they do some things really well, like sniffing around Beltway staff sources for scoop on Beltway negotiations. So we should probably assume the VandeHei/Allen story today on the shape of a possible fiscal deal between the White House and Congress isn’t too far off the mark.

As they describe it (without a whole lot of detail, which figure; the negotiations are probably about numbers and concepts at this point), the deal sounds better than most Democrats fearful of a “cave” might have expected: a non-negotiable top marginal tax rate increase; some defense cuts in the “spending cut” mix; and relatively slender “entitlement reform” centered in Medicare with savings occurring ten years out or more.

The account includes an awful lot of “ifs” about Republican support for such a package, with the key figure appearing to be Eric Cantor. And there’s this interesting passage about another House Republican:

[Paul] Ryan, back at the Capitol after spending the fall on the road as Mitt Romney’s running mate, is said to be resisting concessions that the others consider inevitable.
Ryan, who is considering a run for president, will ultimately have to decide if he wants to be party to a deal - or if he wants to be the public leader of the resistance.
If that happens, Cantor becomes all the more important to getting a final deal through the House.

What we’re being told here, of course, is that it is so fearfully difficult for Republicans to defy the conservative activist “base” that Beohner needs to get every conceivable last-minute concession, so that Cantor can be kept on board, who in turn must keep enough of the crazy people on board to get a deal through the House. It’s a giant version of the hoary Mutt-and-Jeff negotiating strategy, and presumably a Democrat—Pelosi? Reid? Some factional leader or potential 2016er?—will emerge to play the same role of pulling the deal closer to his or her side by professing or pretending to send it to the bottom of the Tidal Basin.

In other words, the most likely scenario, despite VandeHei/Allen’s prediction of a relatively early deal, is a lot more Kabuki—and a lot more breathless insider accounts from Politico, which exists for this very kind of situation—before anything real happens. So I wouldn’t celebrate or drink hemlock (depending on your attitude about a “deal”) just yet.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on November 29, 2012 9:07 AM:

    You know, I used to think the most difficult thing in politics, was for Democratic leaders to herd their cats.

    With this new brand of Modern Conservatism, I think it's now more difficult for the Republicans.

    That cats that need to be herded, are running around in the yard.

    But the inmates whose approval you need for any changes, are already running the asylum.

    "Here, kitty, kitty... Here, kitty, kitty..."
    "Here Hannibal, here Dahmer... Here John Wayne Gacy, here Ted Bundy..."

  • stevio on November 29, 2012 9:08 AM:

    The Dems will cave. It's as inevitable as it is nauseating...

  • T2 on November 29, 2012 9:12 AM:

    I'd say there are about two weeks of Rumorville left. Once the Xmas break is approaching either the GOP TeaParty will get with the deal or not. If not, just let the Bush Tax Cuts expire as scheduled (by the GOP).
    Besides, we really need to get to the bottom of Benghazigate before working on any of these less important things such as the Cliff.

  • Ron Byers on November 29, 2012 9:12 AM:

    I have been hearing Republicans hint that a deal is in the offing, but I wrote it off to Fox News bubble hype.

    I have to see the medicare reforms to know if this is real. Remember the President wants real deficit reduction. I think he has an ambitious goal for deficit reduction. He might be the only guy in Washington who really believes deficits matter.

  • T2 on November 29, 2012 9:18 AM:

    the final House race has been settled...giving the Dems 201, the TeaParty 234. This means that Dems only need 17 GOPers to join them and they'll have a majority. Sounds doable to me.

  • Ronald on November 29, 2012 9:33 AM:

    Sorry to be a pessimist, but given how badly the Democrats caved time and time and time again over the last few years, I won't believe that there's a 'good deal' in place until I see it.
    I know, as a progressive, that the deal will not be all that I want it to be- that's a given unfortunately.
    But it was so hard to keep seeing 'our side' lay down and let the teapers roll over them time and time again.
    I've been hopeful that with Obama's re-election that the Ds would show some spine, but we'll have to wait and see.

  • Th on November 29, 2012 9:53 AM:

    I hope the House Dems do the same on this vote as the TARP vote: make the Reps come up with the votes to pass it. A 50-50 split of Ds and Rs would be about right. Make the Rs own it.

  • jjm on November 29, 2012 10:22 AM:

    Aren't posters here sick and tired as I am of the Democratic cave meme yet? They seem not to have caved to the point where they could not convince Americans they have the right stuff, nor to cave to the point where they lost health care, lost DADT repeal, lost Lily Ledbetter, lost Financial Reform....

    They are realistic, and they know HOW to govern. The GOP has shown it is not and does not.

  • Mimikatz on November 29, 2012 10:33 AM:

    To me two things would constitute a Dem cave. One is not getting the top tax rates up, at least to 39%. The second is raising the age for Medicare or cutting Social Security benefits by chained CPI or some such mechanism. It does not look like either of these is happening. Defense cuts are good. Medicare cuts way down the road are good, as by then the Obamacare reforms (which GOPers and casual observers don't seem to understand) should be saving real money. If this is the deal, with tax reform next year, ok with me, although I also want an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for 2years and the debt ceiling too.

    I think it's time to get a new whine, as Dems caving seems to have been run over by the election. I like the looks of the new Senate and the new House is marginally better. The deal will be done by Christmas, or we go over the curb and the new Congress does it before Obama's inauguration.

  • ex-curm on November 29, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Ed, calling the proposed entitlement cuts "relatively slender" is rather optimistic since the article clearly states the amount of cuts could go higher, and because it says it includes "means testing" and "raising the retirement age" for medicare both of which every reputable economist says is wrong. The piece also suggests that Social Security could still be in the mix, but that Reid opposes that.

    The Dems needed but failed to spell out to Obama a clear alternative to entitlement cuts-- such health care expense reducing items that Robert Reich, Paul Krugman and Dean Baker have suggested that would give the administrators of medicare more bargaining rights to force down costs and to reduce administrative costs

  • Ronald on November 29, 2012 10:51 AM:

    It isn't whinging want the Democrats we've elected to display a little spine.
    Raise the damn taxes on the wealthy, and especially on the super-wealthy, take away corporate largess (such as the literally >billionsrecommended by the Pentagonmore than The math isn't that hard, it's the politics that seem to be getting in the way.

  • Mimikatz on November 29, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Reading the Politico article in it's entirety, it does mention raising the Medicare age among the "entitlement reforms" we are meant to swallow. This is a terrible, terrible idea, even if they phase it in so it starts in 10 years, for people now 55. Unless by then we have single payer as a result of Dem victories in the next several elections, that is a really bad idea. Did 40-55 year olds really give most of their votes to Romney or is this just a "reform" that is pushed off so long people expect it to be ultimately undone?

    Otherwise, the things they are talking about are ok. Medicare has to be made even more efficient and needs to remove the incentives to over treat and ineffectively treat old people. It can be done without hurting beneficiaries. And I was glad to see lower rates on investment income and carried interest as things that need to go in the tax part of the deal.

  • Ronal on November 29, 2012 10:56 AM:

    Grr. Part of this got eaten.
    It isn't whinging want the Democrats we've elected to display a little spine.
    Raise the damn taxes on the wealthy, and especially on the super-wealthy, take away corporate largess (such as the literally billions given to oil companies who are, literally, rolling in profits), and implement the cuts recommended by the Pentagon and there will be more than enough money to take care of entitlements, pay for Obamacare and even pay down the debt.
    The math isn't that hard, it's the politics that seem to be getting in the way.

  • Ron Byers on November 29, 2012 11:27 AM:

    If the Medicare reforms include raising the eligiblity age to 67 we have to make sure those over 60 have access to solid and affordable insurance. Maybe that is already anticipated by the ACA. If not we have to make sure the ACA is tweeked to make sure we don't create a real problem.

    I can easily work to 67 because I am a professional in good health. We can assume most of the policy makers are the same.

    Neither we nor they can't forget,however,that there are a lot of people who physically can't stay in the workforce to 67 before their bodies give out. We have make sure early medicare is available for them. Otherwise we and will be creating real hardship for a large number of people and won't save any money.

  • Ron Byers on November 29, 2012 11:29 AM:

    "Can forget," not "can't forget." Preview is my friend.

  • castanea on November 29, 2012 12:53 PM:

    "Aren't posters here sick and tired as I am of the Democratic cave meme yet?"


    It's time for emoprogs to understand who the enemy is and how to fight that enemy, and not to get lost in counterproductive, and false, memes that do nothing but erode morale on our side.

    Already these emoprogs are tossing victory into the jaws of defeat. If the left in this country could be as unified as the right when it comes to accepting incrementalism, we'd be in great shape as a nation.

  • Doug on November 29, 2012 9:18 PM:

    Raising the Medicare age is something ALL the VSP want and I have no doubt they have talking about it - but I doubt it'll be included.