Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Concessions, Continually

It's not only Chuck Schumer who issues perplexing statements. At his press availability (transcript here) on Tuesday, called to update the media on debt negotiations, President Obama stated

Now, I’ve heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term, but then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit. I don’t share that view. I don’t think the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems. That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington, when both parties simply take the path of least resistance. And I don’t want to do that here.

I believe that right now we’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big — to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within its means, that puts our economy on a stronger footing for the future, and still allows us to invest in that future.

Most of us already agree that to truly solve our deficit problem, we need to find trillions in savings over the next decade, and significantly more in the decades that follow. That’s what the bipartisan fiscal commission said, that’s the amount that I put forward in the framework I announced a few months ago, and that’s around the same amount that Republicans have put forward in their own plans. And that’s the kind of substantial progress that we should be aiming for here.

The President wants us "to tackle our deficit" and disregard those who "want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term." Better to "do something big." That "something big" apparently is what back in April Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and advisor to the President, told us (video below) Mr. Obama wants: elimination of a few loopholes in return for lower tax rates and reduced spending.

Pretty neat trick to acknowledge before negotiations begin that you support the other side's goals. Once Administration officials and Republicans in negotiations led by the Vice-President agreed to substantial cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, talks broke off. Now, Congress smells blood," according to William L. Minnix Jr., the chief lobbyist for nonprofit nursing homes. Digby is prompted to observe

Wow, that is some negotiating. We've already agreed to deeply cut programs for the poor and elderly, but we simply won't cut any more unless you agree to some nominal "reform" of the arcane tax code or ending some subsidies from hugely profitable oil companies. Or something. Seriously, we mean it. Not one more old, sick person on the chopping block until you pony up with something.

This is the most amazing "negotiation" I've ever seen. The Democrats just keep giving the Republicans everything they could possibly want and the Republicans just keep telling them to take a hike. It may be kabuki, but it's become a total farce. And the truly hilarious thing about it is that the Republicans are going to destroy the Democrats in 2012 for being the ones to propose cuts to programs that people rely on and then holding the Republicans hostage with further demands for taxes. (You think they won't? Or that a number of people aren't confused enough to believe them?)

At this point, no matter what happens the deal is a disaster. Democrats have offered up cuts in health care programs to raise the debt limit --- a previously pro-forma vote that the Republicans already said they would raise. Who knows what else they're going to give up before it's all said and done? In return? Well, I suppose the Republicans will have to agree to some phony accounting gimmicks that looks like a tax hike and then stage a vote so the Tea Partiers can all vote against it in principle and then "hold out" for something more. (Indeed, I expect they are completely gobsmacked that they've gotten cuts beyond anything they dreamed of when this whole thing started and rightfully see no margin in wrapping this thing up before they have to.

But Joe Biden cannot sell out the poor and the elderly fast enough to satisfy his boss, and the President has invited leading Republicans to the White House for some more talks on Thursday, where he can beg them for something, anything which will allow him to save face. Blogger and former GOP speechwriter David Frum recognizes

Obama has set up yet another lopsided bargaining table: He needs the Republicans to give him something, anything, that he can claim as a victory. This need, however, perversely puts the Republicans in the situation where if they give him something, anything, it will be represented as a defeat. The president’s own weakness has had this perverse effect on his political opponents: it has reduced the value of his own concessions (no matter how big) and hugely exaggerated the significance of any offset he achieves (no matter how small).

While distinctions between the two parties ( as perceived by liberals and moderates) are narrowed, Obama gets to declare victory, the Democratic Party loses its identity. Disillusioned, many Democrats decline to vote for others of their own party but, appalled by the extremism of the opposition to the President, vote for the re-election of Barack Obama. Now that is one smart pol.

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