Ten Miles Square

Blog

January 16, 2013 9:04 AM If It’s Always a Crisis…

By Jonathan Bernstein

Philip Klein has been urging Republicans to act sensibly on the debt limit, but I’m going to have to call him out on this one:

[I]t’s undeniable that Obama’s first term sent a clear message. For Obama to agree to cut spending, there needs to be a crisis. If Republicans don’t use crises as leverage, Obama will make lofty statements about deficit reduction without actually doing anything about it.

Now, never mind that Klein here equates “deficit reduction” (which Obama has strongly supported by advocating tax increases) with “cut spending.” He’s pretty clearly interested mainly in the latter, so we’ll stick with that.

If Klein’s point is just that Obama’s main priority is not to slash spending, then that’s fine. And Obama’s first two years are, I agree, good evidence that if he could get his way on everything, he wouldn’t be cutting spending overall — although, as Klein acknowledges, he might cut spending on some things (along with tax increases) as part of a way of increasing spending on others. But, yes: I think there’s an excellent case that those liberals who have convinced themselves that Obama’s ultimate preference is to cut federal spending, including Medicare and Social Security, are wrong.

But as far as House Republican strategy is concerned, I’m afraid Klein’s analysis won’t wash.

The problem is an obvious one: lack of variation in the independent variable. That is, as soon as the Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they’ve lurched from one crisis to another; there’s never been a time when they didn’t force a crisis and try to negotiate the regular way.

In their defense, it’s pretty normal for all negotiations to go down to the last minute, or at least close to it, or at least it has been since at least the 1980s. Still, it’s hard to deny that House Republicans have been embracing the crisis in order to win concessions from Barack Obama, whether the crisis has been a government shutdown, the debt limit, or a sequestration. There has not been, for example, an example of Republicans passing routine continuing resolutions to keep the government going at current levels while Obama repeatedly refuses to budge on his preferences.

So, yeah, I think that Klein is right that giving his druthers, Barack Obama isn’t really looking to cut government spending below current levels. But there’s no evidence at all that it takes a crisis to get Obama to negotiate.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Back to Home page

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
tags