Austerity Bomb Theater

Ezra Klein breaks down the White House’s first offer in the Austerity Bomb negotiations.

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.

He continues to say that this isn’t exactly a serious offer, however, and that the White House knew Republicans would reject it.

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.

The GOP is right: This isn’t a serious proposal. But it’s not evidence that Obama isn’t serious. He’s very serious about not negotiating with himself, and his opening bid proves it. Now that they’ve leaked his initial offer, the next question is obvious: What’s their offer?

 $1.4 trillion cut from discretionary spending somewhere – and we all know where the vast bulk hits, it’s poor people and their safety net – is not a serious offer except in that it shows the White House is serious about haggling from there. It’s Obama’s version of “this gourd is worth 25 shekels if it’s worth one!”. The only logical conclusion is that by the time the oh-so-serious-at-haggling Obama and his Dem supporters are finished patting themselves on the back, we’ll be looking at substantially more in cuts to be paid for by the suffering of the poorest and least able in society.

This is exactly the same kind of con-job as “compassionate conservativism” and the left should give it exactly the same short shrift.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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