WaPo on “Grand Bargain”: Obama Blew It

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Bad Meme Rising: The Washington Post is out with a long, reported tick tock on the failed “grand bargain” deficit cutting negotiations of last summer. It’s hard to read and not reach one conclusion: Obama blew it.

According to the Post,  the two sides (Obama and Boehner) were close to a deal. Then Obama foolishly trumpeted a “Gang of Six” proposal that had a much higher tax number, which had the effect of making the deal look small. ** He then demanded a 50% increase ($400 billion) in new revenues. When the talks then blew up, he tried to get his old deal back, but it was too late.

1) It’s possible that Obama wasn’t inexperienced, but instead sincerely trying through devious means–i.e. hyping the Gang of Six plan–to leverage the revenue number upward in order to sell it to his caucus, or to himself. That he tried to get the old deal back does suggest a blunder, though. He’s supposed to know his own bottom line.

2) Before the collapse, Obama signed off on a compromise that would have raised the Medicare eligibility age. (Take that, boomers!) Did he, or Nancy Pelosi, really think that would fly with voters–presumably because 60-65 year olds would be delighted to accept Obamacare’s untested patchwork of subsidies and exchanges as a substitute for Medicare’s proven security? Seems deluded to me.

3) Which is why this is  your lede: According to WaPo

White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.

Yikes. The offer in question included raising the Medicare age. In other words, Obama still endorses it. Hello? Republican attack ad artists? Here’s your 30-second hit: “Democrats want to eliminate Medicare for 65 year olds! And replace it with … Obamacare.” You don’t even need the second sentence.

4) I’m not at  all sure it was such a good idea to pursue any “grand bargain” of taxes and cuts in the first place. Why couldn’t Obama have coopted the GOPs by pursuing a vigorous program of cuts and bloat-cutting–but no tax increases-for a couple of years first? His caucus would be annoyed. Standard & Poor’s would be annoyed. The New York Times editorial board would be annoyed. But Obama would be popular, Republicans would lose a key Tea Party issue, and the foundation would have been laid for revenue-raising in 2013.  The power of surrender! But that wasn’t Obama’s thinking.  He wanted a “grand bargain,” right then. On his own terms, then, he screwed  up.

5) That’s a really bad meme for the Obama campaign to have out there. Expect a Michelle-strength White House attempt to knock down the Post‘s reporting. …

Update: Politico‘s Mike Allen says Boehner’s office used WaPo to “put out their side of the story.” Just wait for the more Obama-friendly account from Matt Bai! a) Is Allen suggesting the Post didn’t get both sides’ stories? Sure looks like they did (and that William Daley was a major confirming source, though he has a lot of self-justifying to do and may not be 100% pro-Obama at this point).  b) According to Allen, the Obama side claims Boehner simply “couldn’t get the votes from his conference for a tougher package.” This response nicely fits the anti-Tea Party narrative–those crazy polarizers! But it doesn’t really fit the tick and the tock. If the problem is that Boehner couldn’t get the votes for a smaller revenue increase, then how was it smart for Obama to suddenly demand even more? c) It may well be that neither caucus could muster the votes for a Grand Bargain in the summer of 2011. Then how smart was it to pursue a Grand Bargain in the summer of 2011? Better to concentrate on cutting and put off the revenue issue, no? d) Allen reflects the perverse, conveniently “neutral” Beltway macho in which the supreme virtue is making the “tougher choices” position that put you in the most political danger (in this case by angering your own side). But the point wasn’t to make tough choices, or to take political risks. The point was to get a deal. (Maybe that would involve making the other guy make tough choices.) By that standard, Obama’s actions seem hard to explain. …


**–Republican policy strategist Keith Hennessy reported this at the time: The goo-goo’s PR-stunt Grand Bargain killed the actual Grand Bargain.

Mickey Kaus