Archive | December, 2012

Caving on taxes?

Of course he will! Jonathan Chait:

The negotiating style Obama has displayed in these instances is what poker players call “tight-weak.” A tight-strong player avoids throwing in his chips, saving them for a big hand, which he plays aggressively in hopes of a huge win. A loose-weak player plays lots of hands, bluffing frequently. Tight-weak is the worst of all worlds – when you have a weak hand, you lose, and when you have a strong hand, you fail to maximize your position.


Obama is surely going to have to accept a lot of bad policies in his negotiations with Republicans (a fact I’ve argued to some of my harder-line liberals friends in several columns). But the tax cuts are the one area where he enjoys overwhelming leverage over the Republicans. Their only threat is to block extension of tax cuts on income under $250,000, a wildly unpopular stance countless Republicans have acknowledged they could not sustain for long without courting an enormous public backlash. This is the hand where Obama needed to collect all the chips.


Instead he is allowing Republicans to whittle down the sum by essentially threatening to shoot themselves in the head. And this is the most ominous thing about it. The big meta question looming over Obama’s term is whether he has learned to grapple with Republican political hostage taking. Hostage taking is not simply aggressive or even irrational negotiating. It is the specific tactic of extracting concessions by threatening to withhold support for policies you yourself endorse, simply because your opponent cares more about the damage. Republicans agree that the debt ceiling must be lifted, but forced Obama to offer them policies he opposed because they believed he cared more about damage to the country than they did.


Their refusal to extend the middle class tax cuts is the same thing – they support the tax cuts on income under $250,000, but demand that Obama give them other tax cuts he opposes in order to pass them.


Obama claims, and seems to genuinely believe, that he won’t let Republicans jack him up over the debt ceiling again. But if Republicans could hold the middle class tax cuts hostage, they’ll try to hold the debt ceiling hostage. Indeed, they will probably discover other areas of traditionally routine policy agreement that can be turned into extortion opportunities.


Obama may think his conciliatory approach has helped avoid economic chaos. Instead, he is courting it.

Matt Yglesias does not agree with Chait. However, it’s important to remember that any revenue Obama doesn’t get in taxes will be made up in cuts to social programs.

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