Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Obama Blew The "Grand Bargain"

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a front page story about how Barack Obama's arrogance and ineptitude scuttled a "Grand Bargain" he had negotiated with John Boehner. The New York Times has its own story now, and although The Times bent over backwards to put Obama in a better light, the conclusion is unavoidable. Obama blew it and can't be trusted. Boehner was willing to place his prestige and office on the line, but Obama wouldn't stick to an agreement.
[I]n his counteroffer, Obama had reversed the formulation so that the tax revenue figure — now at $1.16 trillion — would be the minimum that rewriting the code could achieve (a floor), rather than a maximum (a ceiling). With a slight turn of phrase, he rejected Boehner’s entire premise that growth could be counted on to deliver some of the revenue. Boehner could seek all the macro estimates he wanted if it made him feel better, but he wouldn’t be able to use those estimates to lower the amount of new tax revenue that Congress would need to collect. 

White House aides would later insist that, despite their rough agreement on a framework the previous Sunday, the discussion about tax reform had always been fluid and unsettled, an ongoing negotiation in which both sides were still feeling out each other’s limits. The Gang of Six briefing had no doubt complicated this negotiation, they agreed, but it wasn’t as if they had signed on to something and then taken it back. If this is true, though, then it’s true only in the technical sense. If you shake hands with a guy on the price of a car, and you agree to talk again after the car has been inspected and the loan has been approved, you don’t really expect to show up and find out that car now costs $5,000 more. This is essentially what happened to Boehner. What both Tuesday’s panicky calls from the White House and the subsequent counteroffer make clear is that Obama knew he was changing the terms and felt he had no choice.


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