Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, December 31, 2012

Obama Gets Rolled Again - Or Does He?

The fiscal deal cliff details are emerging and once again, it looks like Obama has gotten "rolled" on almost everything.

First, Paul Krugman:

Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama’s previous behavior, can’t help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there’s an issue on which he absolutely, positively won’t give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way — and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn’t seem to be one that this particular president can grasp.

And that means that Republicans will go right from this negotiation into the debt ceiling in the firm belief that Obama can be rolled.

At that point he can redeem himself by holding firm — but because the Republicans don’t think he will, they will play tough, almost surely forcing him to actually hit the ceiling with all the costs that entails. And look, if I were a Republican I would also be betting that he’ll cave.

So Obama has set himself and the nation up for a much uglier confrontation than we would have had if he had set a negotiating position and held to it.

And then Jon Walker at Firedoglake:

First, it signals to the GOP that Obama simple can’t draw lines in the sand. If Obama says he will not negotiate on something (say, the debt ceiling), any Republicans would be foolish to believe he won’t. Obama has never held firm before, and there is no reason to expect him to in the future.
Second, it again reinforced that the best negotiation tactic with Obama is for the Republicans to be purposely disingenuous. The GOP should pretend to be close to a deal so Obama publicly says what concessions he will make, only to have the GOP predictably blow up the deal. After that, the GOP can start negotiations again but use Obama’s concessions as the new goal posts.
After Obama again reinforced his image of weakness, I shudder to think how the next fight will go when Democrats inherently have significantly less leverage.

Even administration mouthpiece Ezra Klein realizes Obama got rolled:

When these negotiations began, the White House was unyielding on that point, with the president promising to veto anything that didn’t raise tax rates for income over $250,000. Asked by House Speaker John Boehner what he’d trade for $800 billion in revenue — about the cost of the high-income Bush tax cuts — Obama was firm. ”You get nothing,” the president said. “I get that for free.”

To make matters worse for Republicans, the Senate had already passed a bill letting those cuts expire back in July because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell figured it would be too politically damaging to block. If Mitt Romney had won the election, that bill would have died. 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!

That will set up a fight over the debt ceiling. The Republicans plan to say that now that they broke their pledge and voted for a tax increase, they’ll insist on a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar of debt-ceiling increase — the so-called “Boehner rule”. The White House plans to insist that it won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling at all.

Republicans I’ve spoken to laugh at this bluster. Obama is already negotiating over the debt ceiling, they point out. He began the fiscal cliff negotiations by saying he wanted a permanent solution to the debt ceiling. Then it was a two-year increase in the debt limit. Now he’s going to sign off on a mini-deal that doesn’t increase the debt ceiling at all. Does that really sound like someone who’s going to hold firm when faced with global economic chaos? The White House always talks tough at the beginning of negotiations and then always folds at the end. Republicans are confident that the debt ceiling will be no different.

All this raises the tantalizing prospect for Republicans that they could end these negotiations having given up less tax revenue than they ever thought possible — less tax revenue than Boehner offered Obama, even — but still getting their entitlement cuts. Oh, and because there was never a big deal, they won’t have to agree to much stimulus, either. All in all, a pretty big win, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the White House’s baffling inability to stick to a negotiating position.

I have to think that the administration didn't stick to a negotiating position because the man at the top, Mr. We Need To Re-Elect Him Or The World Will End, didn't want the administration to stick to a position.

He wanted to cave on the Bush tax cuts, the inheritance tax, the payroll tax cut, everything.

Obama caved on every contested issue because that's what he wanted to do.

Watch how Obama takes a position in education reform and sticks to it NO MATTER WHAT.

Doesn't matter what evidence comes in to show that Race to the Top is horrible policy, Common Core is common crap, test-based evaluations of teachers are harmful to students, and merit pay doesn't work.

Obama believes in these positions and he sticks to them no matter what.

Of course it helps that in the education reform fight, Obama plays the role of the tough negotiator - the Republican, if you will - while teachers and teachers unions and progressive educators play the part of Obama - the waffling "Oh, what do you want, we'll give it to you if you'll love us more!" role.

Perhaps if the teachers unions and teachers themselves treated Obama with the disdain that Republicans treat him, they might  get some concessions on his privatization agenda out of him.

Of course this won't work post-election, but it surely could have worked pre-election - especially when they were panicking after that first debate.

But instead the NEA endorsed him a year and a half out and well-respected progressive people claimed a Romney presidency was "unthinkable" and so we had to vote for Obama no matter how bad he is and the AFT joined the NEA and other unions in GOTV and other efforts to get their man re-elected.

And he rewarded all of this by selling middle and working class Americans down the river, by giving GOPer's almost everything they wanted in the fiscal cliff deal, and he inevitably will do the same when the debt ceiling fight starts in a few months - only that time, he will be selling us out on Social Security and Medicare too.

Either he is one bad poker player or these outcomes are the very ones he wants, only because he is nominally a "Democrat" he has to make believe like he wants something more progressive.

I know a lot of people think he's the former, that he really does have a progressive heart but he just can't stand up to Republicans.

I think it's the latter - he's a moderate Republican at heart and these are the outcomes he wants - lower taxes for rich people, Social Security and Medicare cuts for working people.

Either way, the outcomes are bad for the vast majority of Americans and they will get even worse when the debt ceiling fight starts.

Again I ask, where are all those progressives who claimed they wouldn't let the president sell out progressive principles during the second term?

Sure, they're complaining - but it ain't doing much good, is it?

POSTSCRIPT: A commenter at the Daily Kos puts all this in perspective:

Obama has been very clear in his support of neo-liberal Rubinite economics. He has completely ignored Krugman and Steiglitz. He has kept pretty much the same econ policies as Bill Clinton.
There is no evidence that Obama is a progressive on econ. None.

This whole fiscal cliff performance is theater to get us to accept policies that benefit billionaires and bring cuts to seniors, the middle class and the poor.

That's exactly right.

I think my anger tonight is less at Obama, who is after all acting the same way he has for the last four years, and more at all the progressives and liberals who got their shorts in an uproar over the 2012 election.

This was the guy we had to re-elect?

Hell, he's pushed through more neo-liberal policies than Bush ever dreamed of.

We got food stamp cuts, a health care "reform" law that forces people to buy private insurance, public school privatization programs masking as "reform," - and Social Security and Medicare cuts are coming next.

Just as it took Bill Clinton to end welfare as we know it, it took Barack Obama to sell out what little safety net remains for working and middle class Americans.

Oh, but you know what isn't going to be cut?

The defense budget.

The surveillance state budget.

The drone bomb budget.

Oh no -we just can't cut that stuff.

So shut up and eat your generic dog food from the 99 cents store with the 2009 expiration date, okay!

This is all for your own good.


  1. Paul Krugman has got it just right. Obama is a very weak and predictable negotiator. The Republicans are having their way with Obama.

  2. When the president ends his second term I have a great fit for life after Pennsylvania Avenue. He would fit nicely into the position of lead negotiator for the UFT. He has the drill down pat. Happy New Year to all !!!!!

  3. Where are all of those pinheads with the Educator for Obama posters on the cover of the NEA rag now? Are they still proud of their sell out in chief? This guy is a nightmare for anyone who knows when payday is. If you live from dividend check to dividend check though this guy is golden. Disdain is all he deserves and I wish some of our so called enlightened colleagues would get hip and admit he's got nothing for us.

  4. I don't think Obama is a weak negotiator at all. It's just that there are diferent levels of negotiation taking place.

    On one level, he's negotiating with Republicans whose all-class-warfare-all-the-time are a self caricature.

    Then there's the perception management - a kind of negotiation - with the people who voted for him and whom he ostensibly represents. The key word here is "ostensibly," since Obama is cleverly maneuvering his base into accepting the first of a long series of cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

    I imagine Petr Peterson is happy, whatever his public pronouncements.