January 3 2013
The Man Who Won't Negotiate
President Obama is the president who doesn’t negotiate. “I won’t play that game,” Mr. Obama said recently of the possibility that Republicans will use the forthcoming debt ceiling negotiations to—well—get our nation’s debt under control.
Play that game? Mr. President, it is not “a game.” It is how our system was set up to work. As past presidents knew, the president must negotiate with Congress about the debt ceiling, national borrowing, and how the taxpayers' dollars are to be spent. The president behaves as the work of governing the country were just some game that is beneath his (unprededented) greatness.
Republicans have failed to make the president's refusal to negotiate clear. Wonder why there are so many 11th hour, temporary resolutions to our most troubling national legislative challenges? Look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Fred Barnes writes about this today in a Wall Street Journal piece headlined “The President Who Wants It All.” Barnes writes:
Unlike prior presidents, Mr. Obama doesn't believe he is obligated personally to bring about a compromise….
The president devoted weeks to unproductive talks with Mr. Boehner and Republican leaders in 2011 over a $4 trillion grand bargain on taxes and spending. "He views it that if he has extensive debate then he'd fulfilled his only obligation," a Republican engaged in the talks said. "Every day we got further away from a deal." Nonetheless, Mr. Obama boasted of having devoted more time than any previous president to such discussions.
An even bigger impediment is the president's predilection for stepping up his demands just as a compromise appears possible. After Mr. Boehner agreed to $800 billion in new tax revenues in 2011, Mr. Obama suddenly called for $400 billion more. This instantly killed a potential grand bargain and deepened Republican distrust of the president.
The GOP would have taken the fall if no deal had been reached on the so-called fiscal cliff. One reason is that the Republicans haven’t gone to the public to say that the president won’t negotiate. The GOP has also allowed the president to take the middle class hostage (again, I hate the balkanization of Americans by class) and yet pretend to be its savior. Pundits such as Barnes are speaking the truth about the president’s negotiating style. But the GOP’s elected officials have not done this beyond a few hints.
Compromise is something necessary for a democracy and the GOP has not been able to explain that they are dealing with a man who won’t compromise. Indeed, they allow themselves to be painted as intransigent! What is it going to take for Republicans to start telling the public what is really going on?
Nothing indicates the president’s lack of concern for the cares of ordinary taxpayers quite as clearly as his jetting into town to give, at a tense moment in the negotiations, a buoyant, self-referential speech lambasting Republicans, and then jetting back to Hawaii before his signature is dry on the bill. The cost of the first family's holiday, by the way, originally set at $4 million, is edging up to $7 million.
Just a thought: As a rule, I don’t like making laws to correct things that will correct themselves. The next president and his family may be solicitous of the taxpayer in designing their manner of living. Still, isn’t it about time for a Presidential Lifestyles bill in Congress?
(Just FYI: Some high earners did get special breaks in the final deal--there was plenty of crony capitalism, including, for instance, goodies for the president’s Hollywood pals, many of whom are quite vocal about their desire for you to pay higher taxes.)