Since Ezra Klein is the person the White House taps when they want to get out a message, this could be encouraging news. We’re all sick of watching Obama give away the store, so this is new. The problem is, Ezra also says Obama is playing rope-a-dope to make the Republicans propose the very cuts he’s already willing to give them — and they may be the cuts that shred our safety net:

Republican aides are circulating their summary of the White House’s opening bid on the fiscal cliff. They’re circulating it because they believe it fleshes out Speaker John Boehner’s complaint that “the White House has to get serious.” Above all, they’re circulating it because the president isn’t offering them anything in his opening bid.

Suzy posted the full summary here. It calls for $1.6 trillion in taxes and only $400 billion in new entitlement spending cuts (though note that it assumes the roughly trillion dollars in discretionary spending cuts passed in the Budget Control Act and the trillion dollars in savings from ending the wars, such that the total spending cuts, at least in the White House’s view, are nearer to $2.4 trillion). It also includes about $200 billion in stimulus, including the extension or replacement of the payroll tax cut, and a proposal to encourage homeowners to refinance. Oh, and it lifts the debt ceiling.

“How did it take them three weeks (and two days) to offer nothing but President Obama’s budget?” A GOP leadership aide asked me rhetorically.

We’re seeing two things here. One is that the negotiations aren’t going well. When one side begins leaking the other side’s proposals, that’s typically a bad sign. The other is that Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own. That way, if the White House eventually does give in and agree to some of their demands, Republicans will feel like they got one over on the president. A compromise isn’t measured by what you offer, it’s measured by what the other side feels they made you concede.

2 thoughts on “Rope-a-dope

  1. First of all Ezra Klein is a ferret. Second of all what Obama wants to do or doesn’t want to do is meaningless in the debate on the fiscal cliff. The only thing that matters is what the Democrats in Congress want to do. Fighten’ Harry called Bonehead a moron yesterday. Schumer dared the Republicans in the Senate to make an issue out of anything on the floor. Social Securtiy is off the table. ObamaCare is off the table. The top 2% are going to see a tax increase and a marginal tax rate increase. The Capital Gains tax will rise from 15% to 20% immediately. The defense budget will be cut. Obama be damned.

  2. I hope you’re right, Immy (although I’d like to see capital gains taxed on a sliding scale maxing at about 30%), but I fear that you’re not right.

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