Political Animal


December 17, 2012 10:33 AM John Boehner Still Struggling to Learn How to Negotiate

By Ryan Cooper

The President’s newfound “hardball” stance, where he led with a strongly lefty opening offer and waited for House Republicans to counter (also known as “negotiation”) continues to flummox John Boehner. He’s finally released an offer, and it’s at least pointed at the issue, sort of, but it’s still fundamentally backwards:

Boehner now says he would agree to raise the debt ceiling for one year and to establish a higher marginal income tax rate on people earning over $1 million if Obama will agree to serious cuts in domestic “entitlement” spending.

This is a fairly conservative proposal, essentially where the House GOP has been since before the election, but that need not be a problem. If this were a just an opening bid, the two sides could work towards the middle from there, like haggling is supposed to work.

But there are two big problems here. First is Boehner trying to sneak through some concessions for raising the debt limit (which has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff); the president has been firm in refusing to negotiate over that, as is probably wise. About the only negotiation worth having over the debt ceiling would be to abolish it altogether—that would be worth something, but Boehner isn’t suggesting it. The second is that, for the umpteenth time, there are no specifics about which social insurance cuts the Republicans want. One suspects that House Republicans just want the Dems to propose social insurance cuts so the GOP can blame them for it during the midterms, as happened in 2010.

David Dayen makes a good related point:

This also puts the lie to the idea that you could create a “grand bargain” that will finally put these budget issues to rest. Boehner’s deal, if it went into motion, would reduce the deficit by $2 trillion. That’s on top of $1.5 trillion from the debt limit deal last year. Add in savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you’re at $4.5 trillion in deficit reduction, past the targets set by most bipartisan commissions on this point. And Boehner’s only assurance on this score is that he would not hold the government hostage for more spending cuts until late 2013. No negotiation will end these fights, as long as Republicans can find a political advantage in continuing to press them.

Overall, at this point the president would still be well advised to negotiate after January 1st, when the landscape will be more favorable.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Josef K on December 17, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Um, shouldn't Boehner be busy with something more newsworthy and salient, like a House version of the proposed Assault Weapons Ban II being worked on in the Senate.

    Oops. Forgot who I was talking about there. Sorry.

  • Peter C on December 17, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Remember the old game show 'Name That Tune'? At the end of the show, there was always a bidding session where the two contestants would be given a clue about a song and then bid against each other to say which could name the song in the fewest possible notes. ("I can name that tune in six notes." "Well, I can name that tune in four notes." The bidding always ended with "Go ahead, NAME THAT TUNE!"

    Obama should say, "OK Boehner, Pass That Bill - through BOTH HOUSES!"

    The 'Fiscal Cliff/Sequester' is a 'realish' problem CREATED BY CONGRESS to fix a low-priority situation in the future. It was originally imposed as the penalty for Congressional supercommittee inaction. A simple measure (essentially saying, 'nevermind') would make the whole problem go away. But, at this point, the ONLY solution is LEGISLATION, and that's Boehner's JOB. Obama's job is ADMINISTRATION; he can only sign or veto bills which have passed.

    So, as Clara Peller would have said, "Where's the bill?"

    I don't think there's anyone back there.

  • Monty on December 17, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Maybe Boner thinks its still 2010.

  • Mimikatz on December 17, 2012 11:40 AM:

    Obama should just say in public and to Boehner, "Look. Everything I ever proposed in my first term you and your people opposed, even if it was originally a Republican idea. So YOU tell me what you want in the way of cuts and if we can accept it we've got a deal. But anything I propose your caucus will reject,, so you are really going to have to go first.". Then just stick to that.

  • Vicente Fox on December 17, 2012 11:49 AM:

    If this were a just an opening bid, the two sides could work towards the middle from there, like haggling is supposed to work.

    Ironic that it was Obama who didn't seem to understand this concept before the election.

  • zandru on December 17, 2012 11:52 AM:

    @Mimikatz: Good idea!

    Although I'd rephrase it more positively, in a stronger voice, like "John, you want x billion in cuts to social programs, and you want me to name them. Fine. I don't want ANY cuts. What do YOU and your caucus want cut? Name it and we can talk about it. I've made my offer and I'm still waiting to hear yours."

    The President really doesn't want to come across as whining about how mean the Republicans have been to him!

  • marty on December 17, 2012 12:07 PM:

    ..."a higher marginal income tax rate on people earning over $1 million if Obama will agree to serious cuts in domestic “entitlement” spending."

    Nothing new here: Millionaires give up some tip money and the $1200/month SS recipient gets hammered.

    And the Villagers will call this "shared sacrifice".

  • c u n d gulag on December 17, 2012 12:29 PM:

    "Speaker Boehner, I don't want to make any cuts.
    I want to make some increases.
    If you want cuts, you go ahead and name them. And after you do, I'll tell the people that I want to raise the taxes on the rich to 50% on their highest bracket, to pay for lowering the SS and Medicare ages to 50, to increase job opportunities for younger people. Now, Mr. Speaker, now that I've made myself clear, how about that trifling tax increase I want on the top 2%?"

  • howard on December 17, 2012 1:38 PM:

    the issue is not boehner: he's not enough of an ideologue to string this out forever, he'd rather cut a deal and go play golf.

    the issue is boehner's median caucus member, who is, objectively, nuts.

    you cannot negotiate with (or for) crazy people, especially crazy people who aren't interested in negotiating!

    frankly, if it weren't for the fact that he made his own bed, i'd feel sorry for boehner: imagine dealing with the full membership of the house gop every day? i don't know how you could do such a thing....

  • David in NY on December 17, 2012 1:57 PM:

    Well, except the Club for Growth(?) is having a hissy fit over even Boehner's tepid offering. Guess who really runs the show. And it's not Boehner.

  • biggerbox on December 17, 2012 3:22 PM:

    "where he led with a strongly lefty opening offer" ?

    When did that happen?I recall Obama opening with a fairly middle-of-the-road balanced proposal along the lines of what he had campaigned on for months. Hardly "lefty" unless you measure from a zero point of the Club For Growth.

    There is nothing about Obama's offer that a sane GOP wouldn't have accepted. It's Boehner's predicament that he isn't the leader of a sane party. But that doesn't make Obama's position 'lefty' in the slightest.

  • pjcamp on December 18, 2012 12:25 AM:

    And yet there he goes today, negotiating away on tax increases and Social Security cuts.

    I never underestimate the ability of Obama to find a way to cave.