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January 04, 2013 10:55 AM Looking Back at the Cliff

By Jonathan Bernstein

I’m late to this post, so I’m just going to do it scattershot-style…

First, I’ll give you some links. Of course you’re going to want to start with what Sarah Binder says. See also Simon Jackman on voting in the House, And Jared Bernstein is worth reading on the policy and the politics.

Meanwhile, I wound up not having a post-length reaction, but I have a bunch of small points, so here they are before they get too stale:

* “Permanent” in budget-speak is meaningful and important, but it doesn’t mean what “permanent” means in ordinary language. If Democrats have the votes to do it in the future, there’s nothing to stop them from raising taxes on the $250 and up group that they failed to raise taxes on this time. Same thing if Republicans have the votes to cut the upper-level tax rates.

* There’s a difference between wanting to vote against something and wanting it to lose. It’s very possible — likely, in my guess — that a majority of Republicans in the House wanted the deal to pass. They just didn’t want to vote for it. If that’s true, then they might be a lot more happy with Speaker Boehner than they will admit in public.

* What about the role of the Plan B fiasco? It never made much sense in the first place; what exactly does Boehner have to show for it if he does get Plan B through the House? Maybe it helps in the spin war, but it’s hard to see how it changes the negotiations. However, while I don’t want to say he planned it this way, it probably did help in the endgame. Remember when the conference reportedly rebelled at the thought of passing the final package, and decided to add spending cut amendments and then send it back to the Senate? That collapsed quickly — most likely because it rapidly became obvious that they didn’t have the votes to do it themselves…which might have taken less time to realize because they had already realized they didn’t have the votes for the vaguely similar Plan B.

* The blow-by-blow reporting, of course, is focused on personalities. And it’s possible that Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell were able to work together in a way that Boehner and Obama, or Boehner and Harry Reid, couldn’t. But be careful about that: we don’t know if what changed were the negotiating partners — or the clock.

* Which leads to another point: it’s in the nature of these things that they come down to the last minute. We shouldn’t assume the process ran badly just because it played out over New Year’s. It’s in everyone’s interest to work for their best deal, and that usually means holding out up to the deadline. When the deadline is fuzzy, it’s no surprise that they’ll sort of go past it.

* There hasn’t been very much talk about the Democrats’ votes. Why wasn’t there a parallel incentive on the Democratic side to want the bill to pass but not to vote for it?

* And barring that: surely it must have been very tempting for Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats to mess with Republicans during the final vote. If indeed there were Republicans who would have supported the bill only if necessary, Pelosi could have withheld Democratic votes, at least for a while, to try to make Republicans play their hands. At the very least, she could have demanded that Republicans provide a respectable number of votes for the package. I think she got that, especially with Senate Republicans strongly supporting it, but it wasn’t a sure thing until well into the vote.

OK, I think that’s about enough. Time to switch over to the new Congress, anyway.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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