Political Animal


July 22, 2011 8:00 AM With 11 days to go

By Steve Benen

President Obama spent much of the week in private talks with House Republican leaders, working on finding an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling, but last night, the president had a different task: persuading his own party’s congressional leaders that he’s on the right track.

Obama invited the top four congressional Dems — Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, and Steny Hoyer — to the White House, and by all accounts, the group talked for about two hours, which as these meetings go, is quite a while. Ordinarily, after these sessions, lawmakers are willing to chat a bit with reporters, if only to share vague platitudes (“We’re continuing to make progress”), while their aides dish out tidbits. Last night, after the meeting, the Democratic leaders and their aides said absolutely nothing.

With that in mind, it’s worth pausing to appreciate a key caveat to all of the speculation surrounding this process: the number of people who have all the facts is exceedingly small, and those folks are pretty tightlipped. I mention this because some of the information that’s surfaced is very likely wrong, some is incomplete, and some has been twisted as part of a larger agenda. When weighing the validity of rumors, the phrase “caveat emptor” comes to mind.

That said, the reports that have surfaced — which, again, may not be entirely reliable — are so discouraging, one has to hope they’re wrong.

Those closest to the negotiations are sketching out a ridiculous picture: Republicans would get roughly $3 trillion in cuts over 10 years, including changes to entitlement programs, at the outset. Then, next year, Congress would take up an overhaul of the tax code, which would hopefully bring in some additional revenue.

This measure, in particular, is mind-blowing, if accurate:

[T]he president and Mr. Boehner were moving ahead with their plan, aides said, trying to agree on matters like how much new revenue would be raised, how much would go to deficit reduction, how much to lower tax rates and, perhaps most critical, how to enforce the requirement for new tax revenue through painful consequences for both parties should they be unable to overhaul the tax code in 2012.

The White House wants a trigger that would raise taxes on the wealthy; Mr. Boehner wants the potential penalty for inaction to include repeal of the Obama health care law’s mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance after 2014.

Got that? They’re talking about “trigger” that would kick in if tax-reform efforts falter next year, intended to provide an incentive for policymakers to follow through. For the White House, the trigger would be the expiration of Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy; for the Speaker, the trigger would the elimination of the individual mandate.

But that’s crazy. The White House’s idea of a trigger would happen anyway since the Bush-era rates are due to expire at the end of next year. Boehner’s idea has nothing to do with the budget process and wouldn’t actually save any money.

In the bigger picture, even having this “bargain” on the table is complicating an already-contentious process. The Senate was supposed to move forward, perhaps as early as tomorrow, on the McConnell/Reid “Plan B” compromise, which was up until recently the failsafe. Now “Plan B” is in jeopardy, in part because House Republicans don’t like it, and in part because the White House is focused on its far more ambitious agreement. The Senate, meanwhile, instead of working on Plan B, will probably defeat the House’s “Cut, Cap, and Balance” nonsense today, while still mulling over the Gang of Six plan.

The Aug. 2 deadline is 11 days away, and the House is taking the weekend off.

Here’s hoping this process comes into focus very soon, because right now, the fiasco appears to be turning into a farce.

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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  • c u n d gulag on July 22, 2011 8:09 AM:

    "...because right now, the fiasco appears to be turning into a farce."

    I'm an actor, and fomer Adjunct Professor in Theatre Arts, and farce's are generally intentionally outrageous to make people laugh.

    This fiasco appears to be turning into tragedy.


    I'll keep my mouth shut until we get more details.

  • BrklynLibrul on July 22, 2011 8:12 AM:

    Whatever you do, Steve, don't blame the President -- after all, he's a virtuous family man who's the master of eleven-dimensional chess. Or something.

  • Brenna on July 22, 2011 8:13 AM:

    I'm just going to say it. I'm losing faith in Obama.

    While I'm sure much of the details from yesterday are conjecture, there's probably also a lot of truth in them too. I have a terrible feeling the republican taliban is gonna win this fight.

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 22, 2011 8:13 AM:

    if this is true ...
    Remind me again why we have two parties?
    I thought one was supposed to represent my interests.


  • SteveT on July 22, 2011 8:15 AM:

    Any actions toward austerity, unless they're completely cosmetic, will drive unemployment up over ten percent. That would guarantee that Obama will be a one-term president, no matter what kind of idiot, villain or religious zealot the Republicans ultimately nominate to run against him.

    So has what in Hades is Obama thinking? Has he become the victim of his own "White House bubble"?

  • SadOldVet on July 22, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Nowhere to be found is any reason for optimism by progressives.

    The suicide squads have their bombs ready and armed and nowhere is there any apparent leadership trying to defuse the bombs or destroy the bombers.

    When the U.S. federal and states economies explode and take the world's economies with them, will the corporately owned media blame Obama, blame the repukes, or engage in another they are both to blame exercise?

    The question all along for working people in our country has never been Are we fucked?; it has been How fucked are we?

  • Barbara on July 22, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Clean debt ceiling bill. It's simply ridiculous to think anything else even remotely fair would be feasible at this point.

  • SKCYCLES on July 22, 2011 8:22 AM:

    Mr. Benen: I disagree with your terminology. I don't think this is a farce. I think it's a tragedy!

    By the way, I think your blog is great!!


  • berttheclock on July 22, 2011 8:25 AM:

    Very telling insight to Barack Obama was his comments to students, recently, about keeping a copy of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on his Oval Office wall. No, not just to celebrate the freeing of many slaves, but, the fact Lincoln used compromise in the document. Not all slaves were freed, as Lincoln knew it was politically possible to do so while still fighting. He was proven correct in that when many Federal troops deserted following the announcement. However, it was the fact Lincoln compromised which captured the attention of Obama. He bases his policies and negotiations on that his belief that no one can ever achieve victory in one fell swoop. The piece meal approach to politics. However, what he forgets is Lincoln could not announce the Declaration until he had achieved somewhat of a victory at Antietam. Mr President, where is your Antietam moment in this current negotiation?

  • matt on July 22, 2011 8:28 AM:

    Who is positioned to run a primary challenge against Obama? I wouldn't mind have a Democratic option in 2012.

  • dr. bloor on July 22, 2011 8:29 AM:

    I really wish Obama would stop trying to be a modern day Lincoln and start being the Democratic president we need heading the country in 2011.

    Looks like we might need to find 40 in the Senate to stop this disaster in its tracks, I guess.

  • Goldilocks on July 22, 2011 8:30 AM:

    I suppose we have to wait and see. While we're waiting, it's beyond comprehension why Obama would even discuss such ridiculous proposals. He can invoke executive powers under the Constitution. He can invoke the 14th Amendment and let the Repukes take him to court. He doesn't need discuss anything with anyone, unless it's for the purpose of box the GOP further into their insane corner. Is he aware of the power he has? Or is he too scared to use it?

  • berttheclock on July 22, 2011 8:33 AM:

    In the above, I forgot to add "not" to "politically possible". Lincoln forged the war machine in the North on the basis of keeping the Union whole, not, in the freeing of slaves. In fact, Frederick Douglas and many Abolutionists were furious with the snail pace change of thinking by Lincoln in doing such.

    Obama believes in the art of compromise, not Grand Strokes. Even with the ACA, he, repeatedly, said while he preferred Single Payer, he did not believe it was politically feasible. Progressives, if you want Grand Strokes, you are going to, either, find someone else to take the lead or accept the fact President Obama is, by far, the lesser of two evils.

  • Eric on July 22, 2011 8:37 AM:

    There may be no primary for Obama (despite the fact that he might well lose one, if it were to be held), but there sure as hell will be a primary for my Democratic Congressman if he votes for this indefensible capitulation to the class war waged by the right.

  • EC Sedgwick on July 22, 2011 8:37 AM:

    The real laugh is that any deal made now will be changed with the next poll and election. We have no plan but to go futher in debt.

  • Marc Montefusco on July 22, 2011 8:38 AM:

    Would it be appropriate, under the circumstances, to call those looking for a clean bill Ablutionists?

  • Creature_NYC on July 22, 2011 8:39 AM:

    I don't want to become a firebagger.
    I don't want to become a firebagger.
    I don't want to become a firebagger.

    I'm afriad all this may turn me...

  • dr. bloor on July 22, 2011 8:41 AM:

    Obama believes in the art of compromise

    Save the sanctimony. Progressives understand that this is how government has always worked. We simply wished that Obama wasn't such a poor negotiator.

    Progressives, if you want Grand Strokes, you are going to, either, find someone else to take the lead or accept the fact President Obama is, by far, the lesser of two evils.

    The country would be in much better shape over the short and long run if Obama didn't seem to be so intent on daring progressives to try for the former option.

  • candideinnc on July 22, 2011 8:47 AM:

    It is time to start supporting the former governor of Utah for president. He is perhaps 30 percent more sane than the rest of the Rethugs, and when Obama starts dismantling Social Security and Medicare, he won't even be able to get my vote--and I haven't voted for a Rethug in over 30 years.

  • Schtick on July 22, 2011 8:47 AM:

    I've already told my representatives that if they vote to touch SS, Medicare, or Medicaid in any way they will lose my vote. I also told them if they are going to support repub demands, we might as well have repubs in there.
    There shouldn't be any "deals" to raise the debt ceiling in the first place.

    crapcha....inc rtndfo....what country is that one from?

  • square1 on July 22, 2011 8:52 AM:

    Funny. Obama has no problem with "grand strokes" or "thinking big" when it comes to imposing shock doctrine policies. It is only the liberal agenda that is subject to Obama's incrementalist approach.

    Right now, I would be happy with President Obama thinking small and taking an incrementalist approach: pass a clean debt ceiling bill.

  • delNorte on July 22, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Mr. Boehner wants the potential penalty for inaction to include repeal of the Obama health care law's mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance after 2014.

    If all other aspects of Health Care Reform were left in place, and only the mandate removed, wouldn't this crush private insurance companies and send rates skyrocketing, as people could just wait till they get sick to buy insurance (like waiting till your house is on fire to buy fire insurance, with insurance companies forced to issue a policy)?

    If you remove the mandate, then the "penalty" for not getting insurance should be a waiting period to buy insurance - or have open enrollment for one month a year, and if you don't enroll then you're SOL the rest of the year (or two).

  • berttheclock on July 22, 2011 9:00 AM:

    @dr. bloor - Yes, but, what makes this especially sad for Progressives is Obama doesn't appear to understand he is trying to compromise with those who consider any compromising to be a weakness. He never goes into any negotiation from a position of strength. I, personally, believe in Chamberlain's approach to battle. "Fix bayonets, and show 'em the steel, boys". To hell with compromise. I want more politicos such as Peter DeFazio and Bernie Sanders and less, Lincolnesque approaches. One can not compromise with diamond back rattlers.

    @cundgulag, yes, more akin to Pierre Corneille's tragic works in the 17th hundreds than any attempt at Moliere.

  • blondie on July 22, 2011 9:08 AM:

    I hesitate to put this thought out there because I don't want to seem an Obama apologist (Obamabot), but ...

    1. Obama has shown he's a master at political jui jitsu, turning opponents' momentum against them. Case in point: the "government shutdown" threat this past spring. Everyone thought at first that Obama sold us out; after a few days, when the "deal" was more closely examined, general concensus was that the Rs got sucked in. (Which, BTW, might explain their hesitance to strike a deal again - they know they're not as smart as him and are afraid of buying another mess of pottage, so to speak.)

    2. The outline of a deal that I've heard most about is that Obama would trade cuts this year for the pledge to address the tax code and revenues in 2012, just as Steve wrote here, with the question being what could make the Rs keep their end of the bargain. Well ... 2012 is an election year. If the Rs do renege on the deal:

    (a) That gives Obama a HUGE club to beat them about the head and shoulders during the campaign - "They are untrustworthy, they break their word," etc., etc., and

    (b) That vastly improves the chances of Ds taking back the House and holding onto the Senate! Leading to ...

    3. Something it's easy to overlook: ANY law, other than a ratified constitutional amendment, is TEMPORARY. It can ALWAYS be changed by the next Congress. It always irks me when I hear about the Bush tax cuts supposedly being "temporary." Yes, they did explicitly include sunset provisions, as opposed to most legislation that is assumed to be permanent, but every law is subject to change.

    I am alarmed, concerned, outraged at what appears to be happening. But I also think that Obama, AS PRESIDENT, believes that in this idiotic crisis his Number One priority has to be keeping the United States out of default. He will make whatever deal he has to in order to protect the country, and look past it to figure out how to then deal with these incredibly stupid, selfish, shortsighted Rs.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 22, 2011 9:12 AM:

    Again, the only rational thing for Democrats having no say in this is to cheer on the Tea-diots to scuttle all the negotiations and save Democrats from Obama. He's willingly wants to give away the store. In so doing hell force Congressional Dems to steal the economic hostage taker label from the Republicans by forcing Dems to oppose his spineless caving. What a disaster.


  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 22, 2011 9:15 AM:

    Oops, forgot to add: and force Obama to take the 14th. If he has the stones.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 22, 2011 9:22 AM:

    @blondie: I don't the time to annotate the problems with your ideas but you're really confused about who's getting and getting leverage by Obama's incompetent (or is it intentional) negotiating. This is turning out to be a disaster for Democrats/liberals and Obama is the reason. He needs to be stopped. Contact as many Senators and Reps. as you can and implore them to stop this madness now. Time to cheer on the Tea-diots to save Democrats from Obama.

  • Daniel Kim on July 22, 2011 9:28 AM:

    I just had a flashback when I read the "xx days to go" title. This has been going on for a while, and it reminds me of watching Walter Cronkite count up the days of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

    Kind of like today's hostage crisis.

    Maannn! I wonder what Uncle Walter would be saying about this situation today?

  • Unabogie on July 22, 2011 9:32 AM:

    Sometimes, when I read people claiming to be "Democrats", I wonder how they'd speak any differently if they were paid trolls pretending to be Democrats?

    Primaries? Voting for Huntsman? What kind of nonsense is this?

    Look, when we had a Democratic majority, we were passing health care laws, stimulus bills, and all kinds of good things. We were moving in the right direction.

    Then, in case you missed it, the GOP won the House and seats in the Senate. Now that they control the House, this is what you get. No legislation for jobs, austerity, and hostage taking.

    You want this to stop? Vote them out, not your President! Isn't this shockingly obvious? Look, how stupid is it to complain about right wing policies and then promise to do everything you can to insure more of them?

    The math is simple. To avoid GOP policies, stop electing them, or through inaction, allowing them to be elected.

  • candideinnc on July 22, 2011 9:38 AM:

    Unabogie has no taste for sarcasm.

  • bandit on July 22, 2011 10:04 AM:


    They're not laughing with you, they're laughing at you.

  • digoenes on July 22, 2011 10:23 AM:


  • ohhenery on July 22, 2011 10:30 AM:

    Le president has been royally bitch slapped by les baronesses of the fourth estate. Oh dear!

    neerequ Banach

  • Alli on July 22, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Anyone who believes Obama is going to let them trash his ACA is bonkers.

  • JM917 on July 22, 2011 11:55 AM:

    Fourteenth Amendment, Mr. President! Give 'em hell, and let 'em take it to the Supreme Court. At least we'll get a clean rise in the debt ceiling and, hopefully, a ruling that the damn debt-ceiling law is unconstitutional.

    Captcha: District Trasha. Indeed!

  • blondie on July 22, 2011 12:07 PM:

    I'm disappointed to see the rudeness affecting so much of our political discourse has made its way here.

  • JohnR on July 22, 2011 1:51 PM:

    As a professional pessimist, I am forced to say that never in my life have I been so consistently surprised by things going worse than I ever imagined than by Mr. Obama's Presidency. He seems like a nice fellow, but he's become the Ambrose Burnside of Presidents (to keep the Civil War analogy alive).

  • TCinLA on July 22, 2011 2:34 PM:

    Let's see if we have this straight: the Republicans get spending cuts now, and the Democrats get to "revise" tax rates (i.e., tax increases) in an election year????

    And this moron is supposed to be the most intelligent person in the room????

    God, I wish I could go back to 2007 and reverse everything I did during that campaign. This worthless asshole is the biggest political disappointment in my entire lifetime. Adlai Stevenson for god's sake, would have had more balls than this idiot!

    The "community organizer" who stopped organizing the community just as the other side put their community organizing into high gear. The "negotiator" who starts out with what his final offer should be and then surrenders on that before going to the first meeting.

    God help us, this feckless fool is what we have to vote for next year to stop the American Nazi Party????

  • Peter T on July 22, 2011 5:21 PM:

    Obama is a big disappointment and negotiating the country down on the disastrous Republican path. Of course, I would vote against a Republican of today in the general election, as most progressives would do, but, at least, try to have better Democratic candidate first. Dean? Warren? Anyone?

  • shelleybear on July 22, 2011 8:47 PM:

    I want a Democratic alternative to Obama in 2012

  • Doug on July 22, 2011 11:41 PM:

    What fools these political junkies be!
    Second paragraph, last line of Steve Benen's article:
    "Last night, after the meeting the Democratic leaders and their aides said absolutely nothing."
    So, there was a meeting attended by the President, and HIS aides, the Senate Majority Leader Reid, Sen. Durbin, Rep. Pelosi, Rep. Hoyer and THEIR aides. After the meeting, nothing was said by ANYONE involved, including the aides. Yet, out of that "nothing", we end up with an article based on - nothing.
    The first link is to a WaPo article documenting(?) the contents of talks between the President, Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Cantor. The entire article is based on what CONGRESSIONAL aides, anonymously, provided. Republican propaganda, in other words. I mean, we believe every word that falls from the Speaker's lips, even if we think the tears from his eyes may be fake, don't we? And Cantor? As a reliable source for anything?
    The second link, to a NYT article, also provides no factual information. In fact, both the WH AND the Speaker denied being anywhere near a deal. All the "scary" details appear to be nothing more that Republican pipedreams, but hey, you gotta print SOMETHING, don't you? And someone writes an article for the WaPo or NYT, you gotta believe it, don't you?
    No, I don't.