As a follow-up to my prior post about how a grand bargain would essentially shatter the Democratic Party, the Times has an article about what’s going on in Democratland right at the moment, and it’s not that pretty:
With all the familiar obstacles looming, however, Democrats are increasingly looking at the previous round of negotiations — at the end of 2012, as the Bush-era tax cuts were scheduled to expire — and concluding that Mr. Obama flinched, leaving tax revenue on the table that would have ended the budget standoff on more favorable terms to Democrats.
“There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
The second-guessing extends to virtually every aspect of the deal: its failure to postpone the automatic budget cuts for more than two months, its failure to raise the federal debt limit and its yield of $600 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years out of $4 trillion of new taxes that would have taken effect had the Bush tax cuts been allowed to expire.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said the White House should have negotiated after the election with the bipartisan group of senators that he is courting now, rather than resuming the talks with Speaker John A. Boehner that failed in 2011. In the agreement that concluded that 2011 standoff, said John D. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, the administration committed a “fundamental miscalculation” by believing Republican opposition to automatic Pentagon cuts would compel them to accept tax increases.
Other Democratic critics say the president should have ratcheted up pressure on Republicans by allowing all the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, even at the risk of saddling middle-class families with tax increases and inflicting harm on the economy.
“Thinking they’d have a second bite of the apple was a real mistake,” said Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
A couple of takeaways here.
It’s pretty clear now that the January deal was as big a pile of horse dung as I and, well, I suppose every other left-of-center person on the web said at the time. The Administration still insists that it won a big strategic victory on taxes there, but the sequestration fight shows that to not be the case. Much as deficit-cutters like Obama want to break the GOP’s anti-tax front, correctly perceiving it to be the biggest obstacle to a grand bargain there is, the reality is they have not yet succeeded and the January deal is an outlier that essentially proves nothing. Tax hikes remain firmly out of consideration for a grand bargain despite the January deal. Perhaps the only actual consequence of the deal was the ending of the “Hastert Rule” for the time being, which has proven consequential so far on a number of issues. But that would be painting the target around wherever the arrow landed and calling it a bulls-eye, since on taxes, the status quo remains no different in the GOP as before.
It is interesting that Democrats seem to be internalizing this now. Obama has generally not proven to be a good negotiator on budget issues, and I’d argue he’s not been terribly effective on advancing his priorities on them in general. His limitations make getting a good deal from a liberal perspective almost impossible. His tendency toward pre-compromising his agreements to curry favor means deals start at the center and move steadily rightward, his emphasis on collegiality and mutual respect means he’s less able/willing to throw an elbow or play hardball convincingly, and his aggressiveness in getting a deal makes credibly walking away from a bad one harder, decreasing his leverage. Obama has gotten much blame from establishment pundits over not being aggressive enough on grand bargaining, though it’s more likely that his inability to deliver one is due to his deep desire to get a deal making Republicans less likely to give him one, so as to deprive him of a major legacy landmark. It’s not business, it’s personal.
In general, though, it’s probably a good sign that Democrats are questioning these deals. I don’t really expect the entire party to revolt against a grand bargain, though as I wrote last week, not all would have to. It is true that party revolts against a presidential initiative are much more common in the second term, and especially when the president takes an ideological risk, which is what a grand bargain would be. Still, there are too many Democrats who are sincere deficit hawks for me to really believe that a full-on revolt is all that likely. What could increase the odds–and again, this is all highly academic, assuming as it does that Republicans will agree to revenues–is lingering resentment over prior poorly-bargained deals and a lack of trust in the Administration’s abilities in this area. It would appear that there’s a fair bit of that flying around, which is good. I’m quite sure that there’s some grand bargain that I’d approve of, though I have essentially zero confidence in the Administration’s ability to negotiate such an agreement, and Obama has seemingly reverted back into the known quantity he was back in his first term. In the end, I fully expect this push for a grand bargain to be earnestly pushed until it doesn’t happen and something else comes along. Pete Peterson and Andrew Sullivan will have a sad, and life will go on. It should be noted that the GOP’s steadfast refusal to even consider revenues is ensuring both that big cuts don’t happen, and that Democrats don’t undergo a NAFTA/Iraq War type of divisive event that could cripple them for 2016.
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