ChrisWeigant.com

Two Reluctant Bargainers

[ Posted Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 – 16:42 PDT ]

In the midst of a budget fight not seen in Washington in over a decade -- with the possibility of a government shutdown looming -- it's interesting to see how the two men at the heart of the standoff seem to be the least fervent ideologues of either party. What this means for the negotiations themselves is anyone's guess, but it's hard not to see how uncomfortable both Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama are at this sort of bare-knuckles game.

John Boehner, if "insider" reports can be believed, shared one thing in common with President Obama -- a desire to "change the way we do things in Washington" -- when he stepped up to the Speaker's chair. This mostly went unnoticed beyond congressional wonks, but Boehner really did seem to be offended at the way both parties had run the House in recent years. His was going to be a different type of House -- one where debate was free and open, and where he personally wouldn't be jamming any bills down the throat of both the opposition and his own party. He soon learned, however, the political consequences of trying to do things differently than either Nancy Pelosi or Denny Hastert had done them.

When the House began work this year, Boehner tried his new way of doing things with the first round of budget bills. The press ran stories of how undisciplined the new Republican House was, and how Boehner couldn't get a majority of his own caucus in order when it came time to line up votes. A big part of his problem was that the Tea Party Republican faction in the House is not very open to following their own party's leadership. This isn't all that surprising, seeing as how the Tea Partiers see themselves as a grass-roots movement driven by regular voters' concerns. To keep this self-image intact, it seems almost inevitable that they would be unruly when it came to voting the way Boehner wanted them to vote. Since that time, things have gotten worse, in terms of party cohesiveness. The last temporary budget fix passed the House in what can only be called a bipartisan fashion, as dozens of Republicans voted against it and dozens of Democrats supported it. This may be the only way a government shutdown can be avoided in the next few days, as well.

Unfortunately for Boehner, the dissenters are pressuring him into refusing pretty much any deal the White House and the Democrats offer. They want the whole ball of wax, and some of the Tea Party faction actually relishes the prospect of shutting down the government. Boehner recently signaled that he has been listening to them, when he announced that he wasn't going to approve any deal that couldn't pass with a straight majority vote in the House from his caucus (218 Republican votes, in other words). This was, doubtlessly, meant to reassure the Tea Partiers, since such a number would be impossible to hit without them.

But Boehner isn't really all that comfortable staking out such an extreme position. This would be even more partisan than the way Denny Hastert ran the House, which was not exactly how Boehner wanted to run his House (again, if insider reports can be believed). It hasn't stopped Boehner from posturing in front of the cameras this week, however. Perhaps he's hoping that if he projects the image of fighting hard to carry the Tea Party Republicans' water, they'll go along with him when he cuts the almost-inevitable deal with the Obama White House. "I fought as hard as I could," you can picture him saying to his caucus, "and this is the best we can get." Boehner was around the last time the government really did shut down, and he remembers full well who got blamed for it -- the guy who was Speaker of the House.

Boehner's natural inclination would be to cut a deal and proclaim victory. But he knows this may not be enough for the Tea Party faction. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, however, Barack Obama seems just as uncomfortable with the role he is now assuming as Bargainer-in-Chief for the Democrats.

Obama doesn't exactly relish such legislative controversy. He is much more comfortable outlining broad legislative goals and then stepping back and letting Congress do all the negotiating and bargaining. Obama is not known for drawing lines in the sand, to put it mildly. On major legislation, Obama is content to stay mostly on the sidelines and goad Congress to get something -- anything -- passed which loosely fits a set of goals he has laid out. The nuts-and-bolts negotiating such legislation requires is not Obama's favorite thing to do, by far.

Which is why Barack Obama is looking just as uncomfortable in front of the cameras these days as John Boehner. His impromptu press conference yesterday showed his frustration with the entire process, and how he would truly like to position himself as the "adult in the room" who is above the fray of the give-and-take. This is a much more comfortable role for Obama, but he may no longer have the luxury of staying out of the dealmaking the way he did when both houses of Congress were controlled by his party. To be blunt, it's hard to see Harry Reid and John Boehner agreeing to much of anything in the near future, no matter how critical the legislation may be.

Which means presidential leadership is called for. Obama, to be fair, has been involved in the budget negotiations more than the press has given him credit for, recently. But sees his role as almost painfully non-partisan -- again, the grownup among squabbling (partisan) children. This isn't going to work every single time over the next two years, though. This is merely the first big congressional battle over legislation which critically must be passed. It's nowhere near the last one, or even the biggest one (the upcoming fight over extending the debt limit will have much worse consequences if it doesn't pass on time, for instance).

Obama truly does want to "change the way Washington works," as he campaigned on. Even more than Boehner, he wants to change Washington's partisan culture. This has annoyed his own party no end, as he accepts compromises with Republicans -- and then gets absolutely no Republican votes for his efforts in Congress. Obama has barely even used the most powerful tool presidents have: the veto. He's only even threatened to veto legislation a handful of times in his entire presidency. He is not very comfortable drawing lines in the sand, as he sees himself more in the "Can't we all just get along?" mold of politician. Even now, days from a shutdown, the only line in the sand Obama has tangibly drawn seems to be that the Tea Party folks are "not going to get 100 percent" of what they want.

Of course, none of us really knows what is taking place behind closed doors in private conversations among the major players in the budget fight. All the posturing may solely be for the benefit of the cameras, to shore up both sides' political base. A deal may indeed be close to being struck. Or not -- as I said, nobody really knows right now who isn't physically in the room during such discussions.

But what's striking to me is how neither one of the two men who are going to have to be at the heart of any deal seems very eager to be in the position they find themselves in right now. President Obama seems to want to position himself for the 2012 re-election campaign as some sort of post-Democratic Democrat who can be the president "of all Americans, not just Democrats." John Boehner just seems downright terrified of the Tea Party whirlwind blowing through the Republican Party. It can't help Boehner that pundits are openly speculating whether he will eventually be deposed as Speaker in favor of a more acceptable candidate to the Tea Partiers (such as Eric Cantor, who is waiting in the wings). Boehner knows he's got to appear to be as fire-breathing as possible, therefore the closer to a government shutdown he gets (without actually shutting the government down), the more acceptable Boehner is to the Tea Party Republicans. Obama, on the other hand, knows that if he capitulates fully to the Tea Party demands, he will have totally abdicated his role as party leader -- so he also benefits from tough posturing (without actually drawing any clear lines in the sand).

But neither one of them looks very comfortable in their respective combative positions. In fact, both of them look downright reluctant to be leading this fight for their side. Both of them know that this fight is important because it is the first big political test of the year. Both of them know that if they are seen by their base as giving away too much, it's going to hurt them politically. But neither one of them look like they're happy at the roles they have been slated to play in this drama. Call them reluctant bargainers, at best.

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

35 Comments on “Two Reluctant Bargainers”

  1. [1] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Which is why Barack Obama is looking just as uncomfortable in front of the cameras these days as John Boehner. His impromptu press conference yesterday showed his frustration with the entire process, and how he would truly like to position himself as the "adult in the room" who is above the fray of the give-and-take.

    That's a little tough to pull off when we've got $14T in unsustainable debt and Obama can't even cut $60B in pocket change from the budget. I'm watching political suicide occur right before my eyes, and it ain't Boehner who's digging his own grave. To say that Obama and Harry learned NOTHING from the midterm shellacking puts it mildly.

    You know how I love those Likely Voters polls, right? And we all know that "unaffiliated" voters decide national elections, correct? Catch this:

    Fifty-four percent (54%) of Democrats say avoiding a government shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans - and 67% of voters not affiliated with either of the major parties – disagree.

    Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Democrats feel it’s better to authorize spending at a level most legislators from their party will agree to rather than have a partial shutdown until both parties can agree on deeper spending cuts. Seventy-four percent (74%) of GOP voters and 70% of unaffiliateds would rather have a shutdown until an agreement on deeper cuts can be reached.
    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/march_2011/57_okay_with_government_shutdown_if_it_leads_to_deeper_budget_cuts

    Are Obama and Harry out of their blooming minds? They should be fighting to OUT-CUT the Republicans.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris1962,

    That is nothing short of hilarious. Seriously!

    Let me put it this way ... how much do you think the high end tax cuts that the Republicans love so much cost and will impact on the national debt?

    I mean, this really would be funny if it wasn't so damned pathetic.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Chris1962 -

    Review the poll numbers at:

    http://www.chrisweigant.com/2011/03/07/what-the-american-people-really-want/

    and then fit them into your theory.

    Note that "over eight in ten Americans think millionaires should be taxed more" thing, in your answer, please.

    -CW

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    I will agree that the vast majority of Americans would agree that millionaires should be taxed more..

    But, as usual the devil is in the details..

    The vast majority of Americans would also say that the US should do everything it can to prevent the slaughter of innocents all over the world.

    But, when one starts getting into specifics, then the numbers start dropping.

    I think that's the case with the taxing millionaires issue..

    Sure, the vast majority of Americans would say, "tax the bastards to hell" but then would add, "as long as it doesn't hinder job creation or economic recovery"...

    That's one of those perfect examples of why polls aren't the best data to run with. One can phrase the questions to produce whatever response is desired..

    If ya'all want or need proof that CB is dead on ballz accurate with her information, you need only look as far back as the last election.. :D

    If CB was wrong in her assessment, the Democrats would not have been shellacked and thrown out of power...

    Michale.....

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Like I mentioned in a previous commentary..

    Most Americans view the GOP as the Party that wants to curtail exorbitant government spending.

    And the Democratic Party is viewed as the Party that wants federally funded Cowboy Poetry.

    Michale....

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    Most Americans view the GOP as the Party that wants to curtail exorbitant government spending.

    And the Democratic Party is viewed as the Party that wants federally funded Cowboy Poetry.

    Sometimes, there's just no accounting for wildly ill-informed public opinion polls.

  7. [7] 
    akadjian wrote:

    This is the most moronic budget "battle" ever. It's like 1 person holding up the line at the supermarket because there's only a single penny in the spare change tray. And he wants 2 pennies.

    You give him two pennies, then he says he wants 3 pennies.

    If Democrats agreed to every demand conservatives make, is there any doubt that conservatives would come up with more demands?

    Michale gets it right when he says this is about how Americans "view" the different parties. That is, its a marketing battle. Its about politics and its about the next election. Its about heroes and villains.

    The money itself doesn't really matter. Its about one party trying to "appear" to be fighting for spending cuts.

    What isn't clear, however, is what Democrats are fighting for. I think they're on the right track by trying to make this about the economy. That's the fight everyone really cares about.

    They just need to make the message stronger.

    What Obama said:
    "At a time when the economy is still coming out of an extraordinarily deep recession, it would be inexcusable -- given the relatively narrow differences when it comes to numbers between the two parties -- that we can't get this done."

    What Obama should have said:
    "If our economy is a patient, it would still be in the recovery ward after major surgery. Now is not the time to take the bandages off."

    They're close and have the right idea, they just need to be sharper and more succinct.

    Oddly enough, I find myself feeling a little sorry for Mr. Boehner (and that's a hard thing to do). He comes across like McCain as not being a "true" believer in the Tea Party religion (whatever that is) - and I think he'll eventually be replaced.

    -David

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    If Democrats agreed to every demand conservatives make, is there any doubt that conservatives would come up with more demands?

    And the converse is also true, as evidenced by Obama's recent statements critical of the GOP.. IE "You can't have a MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY" attitude"...

    Ironic, since that is EXACTLY how the Dems governed when they had the House.

    Unfortunately for us lowly Americans, of late the MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY is the rule amongst both GOP and Dems, as opposed to being the exception...

    Michale.....

  9. [9] 
    akadjian wrote:

    And the converse is also true, as evidenced by Obama's recent statements critical of the GOP.. IE "You can't have a MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY" attitude".

    You're kidding, right? Do we need to list all of the compromises Democrats have passed?

    Here's a few just off the top of my head:
    - Tax cut extension for wealthy
    - Guantanamo military trials
    - Health care (no single payer, no public option)
    - Afghanistan/Iraq

    Can you name one instance where Democrats refused to compromise?

    One ... that's all I'm asking. This should be easy, right?

    Only I can't think of one. So I'm wondering what you're referring to.

    I think you said it best when you said that conservatives are unhappy w/ Obama because he won't do "everything" they want.

    -David

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Can you name one instance where Democrats refused to compromise?

    One ... that's all I'm asking. This should be easy, right?

    CrapCare :D

    Of course, once Democrats lost the ability to FORCE it, they started compromising their asses off.. :D

    But that doesn't change the fact that, had Scott Brown lost the MA election, CrapCare would look quite different today...

    Michale....

  11. [11] 
    akadjian wrote:

    CrapCare :D

    So Democrats have compromised on every bill we both can think of. That's what I thought.

    Of course, once Democrats lost the ability to FORCE it, they started compromising their asses off.. :D

    Puh-leez. Let's not be dramatic. Obama never even considered single payer. He started with a compromise. And then compromised some more.

    The sticking points had very little to do w/ Republican vs. Democrat and everything to do with what the big insurance companies wanted as part of the bill.

    So make no mistake about it. The Republicans wanted the healthcare reform package too. That's why they sent Scott Brown as the deciding vote. You'll see this happen when politicians want the party to appear to be "against" something. They'll send in just enough votes for it to pass - the freshman usually. Then, the rest of the party votes against it. You and I both know the Republican party- if they really hadn't wanted it, they would have blocked it.

    -David

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    You and I both know the Republican party- if they really hadn't wanted it, they would have blocked it.

    Ya sound kinda envious.... :D

    Michale.....

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    Soo....

    What ya think about Obama's threat to veto pay for the troops?? :D

    Michale.....

  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Ya sound kinda envious.... :D

    Hell yeah. I've been arguing for Dem spine for years!!!

    What ya think about Obama's threat to veto pay for the troops?? :D

    In addition to being a Muslim, a socialist, and hating the troops, I hear he's also a puppy killer

    :)

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    In addition to being a Muslim, a socialist, and hating the troops, I hear he's also a puppy killer

    Well, I don't know about all that..

    But, the GOP has passed a stop-gap measure so that the troops get paid..

    Obama has promised to VETO that....

    Seems to be a pretty shitty thing to do...

    Michale....

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    For the record, let's be perfectly clear..

    Any government shutdown is completely and solely the fault of the Democrats..

    They had a rock-solid super majority and could have passed a budget at ANY time in the last year or so...

    The fact that we are where we are at now simply cannot be laid at the feet of the GOP...

    Michale.....

  17. [17] 
    akadjian wrote:

    http://media40.wnyc.net/media/photologue/photos/cache/Tea%20Party%20Shutdown_take_home_fea_image.jpg

    C'mon, you know I'm just kidding, Michale.

    Yunno who I think is really to blame.

    We are.

    We're to blame for our fascination with this idiotic back-and-forth.

    You and I have our differences. But despite that I think we have a mutual respect for each other. Because of this mutual respect, I have no doubt in my mind that the two of us could put together a better budget than our elected politicians.

    What we should be demanding is that our politicians have this same respect for each other.

    Rather than each side taking their fight to the media to try and spin who is more to blame, lock 'em in a room and don't let 'em come out until they have a compromise.

    And I don't want to hear any blame from either side.

    This is what would end the idiocy. That's what we should be demanding.

    -David

  18. [18] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    Puh-leez. Let's not be dramatic. Obama never even considered single payer. He started with a compromise.

    He campaigned on single-payer. The "mandate" was Hillary's position, remember?

    And Obama didn't "compromise"; he obeyed the insurance lobbyist, who insisted he dump the public option if he wanted her cooperation in getting his legacy-making legislation into the history books. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/obamasdeal/view/?utm_campaign=viewpage&utm_medium=grid&utm_source=grid

  19. [19] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    In addition to being a Muslim, a socialist, and hating the troops, I hear he's also a puppy killer

    That's not true. The family dog is still alive.

    You forgot "embarrassingly weak so-called leader."

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    That's not true. The family dog is still alive.

    If the troops don't get paid, no more Alpo for Bo!!

    Michale.....

  21. [21] 
    akadjian wrote:

    And Obama didn't "compromise"; he obeyed the insurance lobbyist, who insisted he dump the public option if he wanted her cooperation in getting his legacy-making legislation into the history books.

    Did not have time to watch, but it would not surprise me if this were true. Republicans were following similar marching orders. Hence, why they sent Scott Brown in to take one for the team.

    Another case in point. George W. bailing out the banks. Does the fact that he "obeyed" the banking lobbyists make him an embarrassingly weak leader too?

    This is pretty much how all legislation gets passed these days in Washington. It's not so much Democratic or Republican or even Tea Party, it's corporate.

    -David

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris1962,

    He campaigned on single-payer.

    Funny ... I don't remember that. Guess why! It didn't happen.

    You still don't care about the facts, I see. That's what makes your comments so amusing.

  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    Another case in point. George W. bailing out the banks. Does the fact that he "obeyed" the banking lobbyists make him an embarrassingly weak leader too?

    Even if true, one instance does not an embarrassingly weak leader make.

    Even you must admit that Obama has, time and time again, displayed an uncanny knack for doing the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment.

    Michale....

  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    Funny ... I don't remember that. Guess why! It didn't happen.

    Actually, at first Obama was a supporter of the Single Payer system...

    "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody."
    -Barack Obama

    That was in Jun of '03...

    As Obama got closer and closer to the presidency, he began adding qualifiers to this Single Payer support...

    So, while it is technically true that Obama may not have CAMPAIGNED on the Single Payer idea, it is also technically true that Obama has always supported the Single Payer idea...

    At least, until it became a political liability to do so. Then Obama flip-flop'ed and thru Single Payer proponents under the bus..

    It's getting REALLY crowded under that Obama bus...

    Michale.....

  25. [25] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Even you must admit that Obama has, time and time again, displayed an uncanny knack for doing the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment.

    If I thought it were true, I'd say so, but I don't see any signs of this.

    I've got several beefs with Obama but he seems to make pretty sound decisions.

    What examples are you thinking of?

    -David

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    Provide the whole quote and citation and you might have more credibility.

    But, it doesn't really matter because, once again, you are comparing apples to guavas.

    Chris 1962 said Obama campaigned on singe payer and that is simply not a fact. Not even close.

  27. [27] 
    Michale wrote:

    David,

    What examples are you thinking of?

    Let's start with Libya and move backwards.. :D

    Liz,

    "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. That's what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we've got to take back the White House, we've got to take back the Senate, and we've got to take back the House."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpAyan1fXCE

    Chris 1962 said Obama campaigned on singe payer and that is simply not a fact. Not even close.

    It IS close because Obama DID "campaign" on Single Player support.

    It just wasn't in the Presidential Campaign..

    Michale....

  28. [28] 
    Michale wrote:

    Liz,

    Here's another article on Obama and Single Payer..

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jul/16/barack-obama/obama-statements-single-payer-have-changed-bit/

    It clearly shows that Obama was once a proponent or supporter of the Single Payer plan..

    But, as I said, once it became a political liability as it became clear that such support wasn't part of mainstream Americana, Obama shifted gears...

    Michale....

  29. [29] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Let's start with Libya and move backwards.. :D

    You're still not saying what the wrong decision was.

    Let's put it this way- if he'd of done nothing you'd be crying that he should do something.

    When he does something, you complain about that.

    So what would you have had him do?

    I'm beginning to think you just don't like him. Especially when you say you'd support Hillary :)

    -David

  30. [30] 
    Michale wrote:

    So what would you have had him do?

    He should have done what he did a LOT sooner with a LOT more firepower..

    Half-assed measures that were completely and utterly too late is the mark of a bad leader.

    Let's face it. Obama did what he did when he did it for political reasons, not out of any sense of integrity...

    I'm beginning to think you just don't like him. Especially when you say you'd support Hillary :)

    Yea, pretty much. :D

    Which is not to say that I don't have valid reasons..

    Michale....

  31. [31] 
    Michale wrote:

    David,

    NATO bombed another Libyan rebel group...

    NATO's excuse???

    "We didn't know the rebels had tanks"

    NATO is led by the US... Obama is the commander in chief...

    THAT is what is meant by "weak leadership"...

    Michale.....

  32. [32] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    Why do you always defend Chris1962 when facts are ignored?

  33. [33] 
    Michale wrote:

    Liz,

    Because she didn't ignore the facts. CB stated that Obama campaigned on the Single Payer plan.

    And Obama DID campaign on Single Payer.

    Just not in the Presidential campaign..

    Obama WAS a supporter of Single Payer.

    These are the facts...

    Michale.....

  34. [34] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Michale,

    What was Obama campaigning for when he "campaigned" for 'single payer'?

    I am fast running out of patience for this kind of obtuse nonsense. Besides, I'm not the one who should be calling it out all the time.

  35. [35] 
    Michale wrote:

    What was Obama campaigning for when he "campaigned" for 'single payer'?

    My guess would be his US Senate Campaign.. :D

    On January 2003, Barack Obama formally enters the race for the United States Senate.
    -http://www.barack-obama-timeline.com/

    He campaigned for Single Payer in Jun of that same year..

    Even if he DIDN'T "campaign" for Single Payer, he definitely was a supporter of Single Payer..

    Until it became a political liability to do so.

    Then he flip-flop'ed..

    Or, maybe he still is a supporter of Single Payer, but just knows that the American People will never go for it, so he hides his support..

    Either way, it shows a shallow-ness unbecoming a President and an appalling lack of integrity...

    Michale.....

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