Monday, December 31, 2012

Fiscal bluff

I guess the question I keep coming back to with regard to the negotiations over the fake "fiscal cliff" crisis the congress has manufactured is this.  On whose behalf is Barack Obama negotiating?

Krugman is asking if Obama is "The World's Worst Poker Player"  here. 
Is it really possible that Obama still doesn’t understand that every time he does this — especially if it comes just a few days after stern statements about how he won’t give it — it just reinforces the Republican belief that he can always be bullied into submission? If he cuts a bad deal on the fiscal cliff today, he more or less guarantees that just a few weeks from now Republicans will go all out on using the debt ceiling to extract more concessions.

It's an easy case to make and it's been made before.  Way back during the stimulus debate we frequently characterized Republican negotiating technique in these terms. 

In point of fact, though, they're actually much sillier than that.

Yet, somehow, something they're doing must be working. What else could explain their success at backing Obama this far off of a major pillar of his campaign platform?

But after Obama won on a platform that was barely about anything aside from letting those tax cuts expire, it seemed inevitable he’d get it done. It was his due.

To the GOP’s delight, that no longer seems to be the case. In the Obama-Boehner negotiations, the White House offered to raise the threshold from $250,000 to $400,000. McConnell, in his negotiations with Harry Reid and now Joe Biden, has been trying to raise that to $500,000. It’s clear to the Republicans that they will get past the fiscal cliff with a smaller tax increase than they thought. Perhaps much smaller. Huzzah!
Could Obama really be this poor a "poker player"? Probably not. Which is why Krugman's question actually misses the point.

It's silly to speculate about whether Obama is a "bad poker player" who just needs a little backbone or a smarter strategy. That kind of talk is like me claiming I'd make a better interim Saints coach than Joe Vitt. (I would be better than Aaron Kromer but that is immaterial.) Obama clearly knows how to negotiate and how to be President. The question we should be asking is, who is he representing in that office? 

Because from here it looks like he's protecting the wealthy and privileged at the expense of the majority of Americans who depend on the so-called "entitlement" programs which have been a backstop against desperation for nearly a century. Here Digby, one of Obama's most consistent critics along these lines, still grants him too much.

Apparently the White House is telling Klein that they fully intend to hang tough on the debt ceiling, you betcha. No way, no how are they going to negotiate. I might find that believable if the President wasn't obviously still chasing his white whale of a Grand Bargain (which he reiterated just yesterday on Meet the Press with his statement that cuts to programs that are "really important to seniors, student and so forth have to be part of the mix.") It has been obvious that the president seeks to cut the so-called entitlements since he first talked about it in 2009, saying that "everyone's got to have skin in the game." That's the danger we've faced from the beginning. And it's only because the Republicans don't want their fingerprints on it and the Democrats risk being mau-maued out of office by those same hypocritical Republicans that it's so difficult for him to get it done.

Just like it's a mistake to assume the President is simply bad at negotiating, it's just as erroneous to assert that he is interested in reaching a "Grand Bargain" with Republicans merely out of some hollow Hollywood fetish for Bi-partisanship for its own sake.   Yes, that's how these things are packaged and sold to the credulous audience but it isn't what motivates the actors. 

Instead, the only way to properly understand what's happening here is the President and the congress are working hard to protect wealth and privilege at the devastating expense of the rest of us. The way this usually works is the Republicans make the hard sell through a series of petulant fits while the Democrats polish the job off adding an imprimatur of reasoned pragmatism.

And so President Obama is, in fact, an excellent poker player after all.  But it's us and not congressional Republicans who are being bluffed.

1 comment:

joejoejoe said...

I just learned there is something called CPI-E which indexes common purchases of the elderly for inflation. That index is actually rising faster than the one used now and much faster than Chained CPI. For supposedly modern leaders who are data-driven it seems odd that the inflation index designed entirely to deal with the elderly is absent from the discussion on social security benefits. I think Grandiose Bargain just about captures the spirit of the times. Doing something large and stupid is more popular than doing nothing and getting a better result.