Political Animal


June 30, 2011 1:25 PM Those who won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer

By Steve Benen

As of last week, the White House was offering congressional Republicans a pretty sweet deal on debt reduction: Dems would agree to slice $2.4 trillion from the debt over the next decade. In all, $2 trillion would come from spending cuts and $400 billion in increased revenue.

That five-to-one split — for every dollar in increased revenue, Democrats would cut about five dollars in spending — was deemed too liberal. In this proposal, about 17% of the final package would come from tax expenditures, while 83% would come from cuts. Asked for their reaction, congressional Republicans left the room in disgust.

Mike Konczal, however, raises an important point today. In March — of this year, just a few months ago — Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee released a report, hoping to prove that focusing on deficit reduction would lead to economic growth. The quality of the scholarship was ridiculous, and the report, such as it was, quickly ended up in the garbage.

But as Konczal reminds us, Republicans who prepared the report also outlined their ideal cuts-to-revenue ratio.

Even for Republican, this is tough to spin this away. Literally three months ago, the congressional GOP said “successful” attempts at deficit reduction meet this goal: “85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases.”

That, in effect, is what Dems offered Republicans last week. It’s also what prompted GOP leaders to break off negotiations altogether.

As Ezra Klein explained,” So when the GOP’s economic policy team sat down to make the strongest case they could for growth-inducing deficit reduction, they recommended a mix an 85:15 mix, not a 100:0 mix. And then, when the Obama administration agreed to an 83:17 mix, the Republican leadership walked out of the room and demanded that taxes be excluded from the deal altogether. How do you negotiate with that?”

Exactly. You can’t negotiate with those who refuse to take “yes” for an answer.

That said, if I worked in the West Wing, I’d seize this immediately. Indeed, I’d have Jay Carney tell reporters today that Democrats have “agreed to Republicans’ terms,” and will accept, at the GOP’s behest, exactly the ratio Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee requested in March.

Boehner and McConnell would balk, of course, but I just want them to explain why this ratio was perfectly acceptable in March, but represents job-killing radicalism in June.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Old Uncle Dave on June 30, 2011 1:44 PM:

    Apparently the obstructionist repuglicans don't fear losing their seats in a future election, even though most Americans disagree with their antics. Could it be because they know the Deibold machines will be pre-programmed for 51-49 victories?

  • Gummo on June 30, 2011 1:45 PM:

    You can Godwin me all you want but remember that in 1938 when the 4 great European powers agreed to all of Hitler's terms for not invading Czechoslovakia -- terms that would basically destroy the independence and security of that country -- Hitler's reply was, I'm sorry, that's not enough anymore.

    So they hastily agreed to his new, even more draconian demands.

    Less than six months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia anyway.

    If this sounds familiar, well, it should....

  • c u n d gulag on June 30, 2011 1:48 PM:

    I don't find it surprising - the Republicans will wait until the last possible moment hoping that the Democrats capitulate, and they'll get their 100-0 win.

    And really, if there's no deal, and the economy tanks catastrophically, what's the downside for them?
    They figure they will be the winners anyway, no matter how bad it is. 'Rule in hell, than serve in Heaven,' don't you know...

    Conservatives really are Fascist's at heart. So, if there's a Weimar like economic collapse, well, God help us - and Godwin's Law prevents me from saying anything else.

  • Josef K on June 30, 2011 1:49 PM:

    We'd best start preparing for the markets to melt-down and chaos to break out.

    There is no way for Boehner and McConnell to deliver a working compromise now. They've left themselves no space to work one out, having gone the all-or-nothing approach. To reverse course now would kill any creditability they could claim and ruin their positions of 'leadership'.

    Worse, even if they did reverse course and accept the 83:17 compromise, I'm unconvinced they could get their caucus to go along with it. The freshmen and other true believers would revolt, giving the Democrats plenty of bipartisan cover to reject the deal as well.

    Basically, we should prepare to see the first full-blown default by our Treasury in history. If nothing else, this Congress will go down in history, albeit not for reasons anyone will want to mimic.

  • bdop4 on June 30, 2011 1:53 PM:

    The GOP issues a garbage report asking for a 5:1 cuts/revenue ratio and Dems give it to them. Then they refuse that offer and ask for more.

    The question is what are people going to conclude from that?

    That repubs are not cooperative and constantly move the goalpost?


    Dems eventally give them what they want because they think their demand has merit?

    When you give your opponent what it wants and get nothing in return, people who are not paying attention will figure it's because your opponent wants it more and therefore is on the right side.

    Dems are being too clever by half and its going to end up hurting them.

    By lending credence to the idea that deficit reduction should be the primary focus in fixing the economy, they irreparably damage what should be their focus on creating jobs.

    The only jobs that will be created using deficit reduction policies will be in mortgage foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy processsing.

  • Han's Solo on June 30, 2011 2:02 PM:

    Is there any chance that what is actually happening is the culmination of the last 30 years of Republican strategy?

    Think about it. The goal, the stated goal no less, was to "Shrink the Government to the point where it can be drowned in a bath tub." They want to "Starve the Beast" using "Voodoo/Trickle Down" economics. They must see this "Debt Crisis" as the perfect opportunity to get rid of the New Deal programs, Medicare, Medicaid, etc, etc. It was the Republicans that said, "Deficits don't matter." Reagan tripled the national debt, Dubya doubled it. Does nobody else see a pattern?

    Let me throw out this out there: The Republicans WANT the US to default. They want to totally melt down the countries finances so they can get rid of the social safety net. They are in the process, right now, of drowning the US Government in a bath tub. This current debate about the debt ceiling could well be the nail in the USA's coffin, and it is the Republican Party that is holding the hammer.

    Third world status here we come!

  • victory on June 30, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Does anyone else see the problem here?

    Obama gave the Republicans EVERYTHING THEY WANTED!

    Even if he does get reelected, this screws him. They know they can get everything they want from him, everytime.

    He's toast, and by extension, this country's toast.

  • Schtick on June 30, 2011 2:10 PM:

    Dems = Bawk Bawk Bawk chickens that run back in the coop and hide.

    crapcha....Rochu ndinivi....sorry, don't know em

  • Josef K on June 30, 2011 2:25 PM:

    I'm not sure the GOP leadership (such as it is) seriously wants to default, but neither do they consider it a serious enough matter to start negotiating for real.

    I know many poo-poo the idea that Boehner, McConnell and the rest are too ignorant to realize what's at stake, but to watch and listen to them, you really don't get the sense they're that bright or thinking all that clearly. I wondering if they haven't actually started to believe their own rhetoric.

    If so, kiss normality good-bye because nothing will stop them.

  • square1 on June 30, 2011 2:26 PM:

    When dealing with an opposition party that refuses to take "yes" for an answer, you have two choices.

    First, you can immediately capitulate and give the opposition 100% of what they want before they make a single concession.

    That, however, is a rather poor, lose-lose strategy. If your opponent surprises you and accepts...great, you lose because you've just given away the store.

    OTOH, if your opponent refuses to take "yes" for an answer, you still lose. Your constituents are pissed because you've adopted your opponent's position. You look like a fool. Oh, and by rushing to make an offer that is bad policy, you have lost the wonky high ground.

    The alternative strategy is to offer up a series of increasingly popular, if vague, proposals that make the GOP foolish for refusing to agree to them.

    Draft a resolution that declares that the debt of the U.S. shall not be questioned, authorizes raising the debt limit, states that the parties agree in principle to reduce the deficit by $3T over ten years, to hold hearings over the next 6 months with economists from all backgrounds, and to agree by February 2011 on how the deficit closure will be finalized.

    Then when the GOP refuses THAT, tell the public the GOP is unreasonable and ignore them.

  • zeitgeist on June 30, 2011 2:26 PM:

    its pretty rare for me to really disagree with Steve, but his suggestion for Team Obama, to say

    Democrats have “agreed to Republicans’ terms,” and will accept, at the GOP’s behest, exactly the ratio Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee requested in March

    is one I definitely disagree with. Those words should never leave a Democrat's lips. it reinforces the idea that Dems are weak, that Obama can't negotiate, that Republicans are in charge, and that their theories and approaches have merit.

    banish those words from the Democratic vocabulary.

  • FRP on June 30, 2011 2:31 PM:

    When Elizabeth signed Mary's death warrant , Elizabeth was furious at having been "tricked" into signing it . There are as many shades of duplicity in the claustrophobia in the decapitation of Mary , as there were dignified Laddies on their knee's to peak and poke , listen and report .
    The fruit of this dignified keyhole , knee worn diplomacy , which was all intended to bring about the end to the eighteen year drama of the frightened twenty year old bird that fluttered from desperation to middle aged incarceration , was a cousinly death .
    If Elizabeth's nimble ministers could rise from their knee's to "accidentally" include just what Elizabeth wanted but was afraid to ask for , Y O Y O Y O cain't we offer the courtly Senate minority leader and the lachrymose Speaker of the House something between the naps and rants which they , despite their deep manners and courtesies , desperately want ?
    Boehner wants everyone to love him and enjoy his amazing ability to consider himself a fierce warrior , who wins and wins by bluff and blind bluff . Offer him an unlimited account at some wizards and dragons game with all the cheats keyed in for him .
    McConnell apparently wants his aristocratic mien to be appreciated along with his ironical wit and wisdom . This is to be cherished as an American original , even in France . No less than Maxwell's Silver Hammer for the Lord of No . Bang bang is the only acceptable sound for the fussily correct ear of the Lord of No .

  • SW on June 30, 2011 2:46 PM:

    Doesn't it matter that it is bad policy? Why are the Democrats proud of the fact that they were going along with it? Why in god's name haven't we seen a plan to attack this nonesense as counterproductive as it clearly is? Why not try something novel like actually doing the right thing and opposing taking money out of the economy at this juncture? Why not fight them? Why not grow some balls and take them on. The debt limit is clearly unconstitutional. Just go after them. Tell them to fuck off. No ransom. No negotiations with terrorists. No fucking with the full faith and credit of United States of America. No sabatoging of the fragile recovery for political reasons. Just FUCK OFF. But we don't have a person in a position of authority who seems to grasp the full range of power at his disposal. It is deeply disappointing that it turns out that as a matter of personality we are paying a terrible price for having a confrontation averse leader.

  • Jay B. on June 30, 2011 2:50 PM:

    That said, if I worked in the West Wing, I'd seize this immediately. Indeed, I'd have Jay Carney tell reporters today that Democrats have agreed to Republicans terms, and will accept, at the GOPs behest, exactly the ratio Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee requested in March.

    Absolutely! What a ringing call to arms for 2012. What brilliant policy. It's a total win for the Democrats. Not only will they sign off on a totally fraudulent piece of shit policy AND give the GOP everything they asked for, they are going to trumpet that they have no actual ideas of their own to the press.

    If they don't believe in it, they should tell them its not good enough. If they DO believe in it, that's not good enough for my vote. Pretty basic.

  • jeri on June 30, 2011 3:07 PM:

    So you think the WH should publicly offer the Republicans 100% of their opening demand as a way to make them look foolish?!! I'd love to sell you a used car.
    The reason Republicans are holding out now is Obama gave in time after time in the past and they expect him to do the same once again. I expect it too (sadly).
    This is a perfect example of why it's bad policy to give in to blackmail even once. Because it's never "just this once".
    Obama should take square1's advice and refuse to play along. Keep paying the bills citing the Constitution and explain it to the public. And make sure the public knows who is to blame for causing the problem. He can do it if he wants to -- He's got a better case for this than he does for his war on Libya.

  • exlibra on June 30, 2011 5:22 PM:

    We've given them the farm. And the livestock. Why should they think we're suddenly gonna balk at adding our pitchforks to the loot pile?

    And I agree with the commenters (and disagree with Steve Benen); trumpeting our malleability (to be as polite as I can) will *not* make them look recalcitrant and unreasonable. It'll just make us look even bigger fools.

    Steve, IIRC, you have no kids. But you were a kid yourself at some point. Didn't your parents ever tell you not to give into a bully? You may have to bide your time and wait till the moment's ripe. You may have to break the code of "us" (kids) versus "them" (adults) and ask for help. But, sooner or later, you *have to* stop giving in, or the bullying will never stop. Whining about how completely you've given in to the bully (but he's still being mean to you) is not going to endear you to anyone.

    "sationy Name". Naming no Names, but the bastards will never be satiated; nyet, and nyet, and nyet.

  • Doug on June 30, 2011 8:12 PM:

    c u n d gulag, the Republicans may think, I use that word VERY loosely, that a tanked economy would benefit them in 2012, but I wouldn't bet on it. Even if, through some incredible fluke, Republicans maintain a House majority, if the economy tanks and the Republicans don't immediately do everything possible to get it going again, they'll suffer the same fate as the Republicans did in 1930.
    I suppose it's possible that, in their determination to bring President Obama, the Republicans are quite willing to do so using kamikazi methods.

    I like Mr. Benen's idea of forcing the Republicans to AGAIN disavow their very own position, but he really should learn how to phrase things. Rather than "Democrats have agreed to Republican terms", I would suggest something such as "Why are Republicans opposing a plan THEY developed?"
    Why indeed!