Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No, Our Side Sucks More!

I'm glad that I read right-wing commentary as often as I do, because it helps give me a sense of perspective on a number of matters. Over in Left Blogistan, we complain about Obama, a lot. And among the most irksome things about him, according to us, are his poor negotiating skills; the way he consistently caves in to Republican demands. Via RedState this morning, righty blogger Michael Hammond, a former Senate staffer, has the mirror opposite complaint: that Republicans are regularly getting their clocks cleaned by Obama's superior negotiating tactics.

Of course, this could just be a trick! But bear with me...

Last week, Matthew Yglesias made a persuasive case that this latest hostage-taking over the debt limit was eminently foreseeable, and therefore a huge blunder on the part of Obama (and Reid):
Back last December when Democrats had a much stronger hand in Congress, they reached a deal with the GOP over tax cut extension and some additional stimulus. Since those measures all increased the deficit, many of us thought at the time that including an increase in the debt ceiling would be a smart idea. For one thing, if Congress wills an increase in debt, it ought to also will an increase in the government’s borrowing authority. For another thing, such an increase would minimize the GOP’s ability to launch a new round of hostage-taking. 
It didn’t happen. Obama said he trusted John Boehner. Harry Reid said he didn’t want the debt limit to be raised by the 111th Congress because he wanted to force the incoming 112th Congress to take ownership over it. The results of these decisions have been a disaster.
But Kevin Drum demurred, in keeping with FDR's dictum that if it happens in politics, "You can bet that it was planned that way:"
For what it's worth, I continue to think that this probably wasn't a bungle. More likely, during his first two years in office Obama had gotten enough deficit religion from the likes of Peter Orszag and Tim Geithner that he actually welcomed the opportunity to put in place some long-term spending cuts. He couldn't very well admit that publicly, of course, since his base would go bananas, so instead he punted on the debt ceiling, knowing that Republicans would then use it to "force" spending concessions out of him. Mission accomplished: long-term spending is reduced, and Republicans get all the blame.
And for what it's worth, my reaction to that was that they could both be right.  It could be that the White House anticipated the GOP use of the hostage tactic, desired them to take the blame for a spending cut deal, and yet still underestimated the depth of their intransigence and capacity for brinksmanship. But here's where Mr. Hammond has his say:
Watching House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell negotiate with Barack Obama is like watching a drunk try to run across the Beltway. Whether it’s ObamaCare, the financial reform bill, the Kagan nomination, the disastrous Lame Duck agenda, the Senate rules battle, the pathetic “continuing resolution deal,” or the current debt limit fight, you know both of them will end up as a splotch on the road, marked by Barack Obama’s tiretracks.
Hammond seems to think that the Republicans will eventually agree to "big hidden tax increases, like a recomputation of the Consumer Price Index, a bunch of user fees, or an end to the ethanol tax credit." And in exchange they'll be getting "short-term defense cuts and a bunch of illusory domestic spending cuts that don’t kick in until 2018."

And you know what? They could all three be right – at least in part. I'm sure the cuts are going to kick in  sooner than that – against the advice of economists right and left – but Hammond is right that Obama managed to get Boehner and McConnell to agree to a bunch of illusory spending cuts in December. Drum is right that Obama leans towards a Geithnerian view of the deficit. And Yglesias is right that the result of all this 11-dimensional chess could still be a disaster – particularly if you or a family member rely on Medicaid.

But whether Obama walked into this clear-eyed or backed into it by mistake, the most nervous guy at the table has to be Boehner. BooMan points out:
As frustrating as this whole process is, it's really Boehner who has painted himself into a box. I don't know how he gets out of it with his leadership job, frankly. ... If he caves on taxes, even a little, he'll probably have to rely almost exclusively on Democratic votes to raise the ceiling. And if he does that, he probably won't be Speaker for very long. So, maybe he just lets us default?
Which brings us back to my point: they could all be right, and still Obama has underestimated just how crazy and desperate a position the GOP is in. So things could get a lot worse before they get better. Generally, I'm wrong about a lot of things, and I sure hope this is one of them.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein makes the case for keeping an eye on Mitch McConnell's poker skills.

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