Booman Tribune

It's So Easy to Outsmart the GOP

by BooMan
Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:03:51 PM EST

The so-called sequester is designed to be highly unattractive to both sides of the aisle. But it is structured in a way that makes it significantly more unattractive to the Republicans. The problem is the cuts to the Defense Department. The Republicans who serve on the Armed Services committees are desperate to avoid those cuts and they are willing to cut a deal favorable to the president to avoid them. The progressives don't like the across the board cuts to the discretionary budget, which will take a bite out of nearly everything, but they prefer them to making a deal that makes significant cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

What this means is that the Democrats will probably hold together and let sequestration take effect rather than agree to a deal that the House Republicans can accept. However, the Republicans will split apart, with defense hawks clamoring for concessions.

The upshot is that Speaker Boehner is in a real bind. He knows his party will lose the support of business leaders if they dick around with the debt ceiling, so his threats there are all bluff. But he'd like to think that he can force concessions on the sequester. He can get a little bit, but not as much as he probably needs to sell it to his caucus.

Making life even more excruciating for the Speaker, the Democrats in Congress and the White House refuse to offer him any concessions and insist that they will only respond to concrete proposals. But the kinds of cuts that Boehner's caucus wants (big cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) are deeply unpopular. Every time Washington thinks about tinkering with these third rails of politics, they propose a commission so that both sides can share the blame. But Boehner is being put in the position of making the Republican Party own ALL the blame. And, worse, he's in the position of insisting on these cuts or else the Pentagon's budget is cut beyond what the Defense Secretary thinks is safe for the country. And don't think that the American people won't be concerned about many of the other cuts in the sequester, either.

To put this in plain terms, the GOP is painted into a corner where whatever they do will be incredibly unpopular with the electorate unless they totally capitulate, which would splinter their party to the winds.

You can call this 11-dimensional chess or just a very nice flanking maneuver, but the Republicans are in a real bind of the president's making.

We'll probably still be debating the president's negotiating skills 20 years from now, but I want to make a point about the Republicans' negotiating skills. Their greatest weakness is their ideological inflexibility. It makes then so predictable that the administration is able to plot things out months and years in advance without much fear that they'll be surprised. It's a huge weakness to let your opponent know that you can't take yes for an answer if there is one penny of tax increases. It allows your enemy to offer you anything, no matter how generous or concerning to their own troops, secure in the knowledge that you'll never take them up on the concession. They look reasonable. They look like they are negotiating in good faith. But it's your own bad faith that allows them to make good faith offers in bad faith. You enable it. Because all you have to do is surprise them by saying yes when they thought you'd say no, and you've put a wedge between them and their base.

The Republicans were set up by their own predictability. And their predictability is founded on their ideological rigidity. They are getting played like a fiddle.

Still isn't helpful when the president undermines the Senate Majority Leader, especially without telling him until after more concessions/offers were made. I'd find it more convincing if they were more in sync with one another; the deal made on New Years was definitely not one of those.
by seabe on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 01:07:24 AM EST
I was skeptical whether the situation was really of the President's own making, but then I read this: he-sequester/2012/10/25/8651dc6a-1eed-11e2-ba31-3083ca97c314_blog.html

The part that I continue to dispute is the innocuousness of this:

It allows [the Democrats] to offer you anything, no matter how generous or concerning to their own troops, secure in the knowledge that you'll never take them up on the concession. They look reasonable. They look like they are negotiating in good faith.

Conservatives are actually better long-range strategists than progressives are.  They're much more willing to take small defeats in pursuit of normalizing their unpopular ideas.  That's why we're now calling a Republican health-care insurance plan from the 1980's "transformative" and rank-and-file Democrats recently defended Social Security cuts as not being cuts.  They may dispute evolution, but they understand erosion.

by blue moon on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 01:18:46 AM EST
Everyone is a better long range and short range strategist than progressives, but the President is not a progressive. He's a smart, tough, Democrat who has boxed in the GOP despite the strenuous efforts of the Progressives and the Conservadems.

By the way, only progressives would be naive enough to believe that the GOP ever actually supported this kind of health reform.

by rootless2 (none) on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 10:47:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, only progressives would be naive enough to believe that the GOP ever actually supported this kind of health reform.

That's an excellent point. Obama essentially called the GOP's bluff in adopting their own proposal on health care reform. Who knows, maybe it will make them wary about what insincere proposals they make in the future, with the net effect that they back further away from trying to look reasonable.
by RT on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 12:46:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Plus, there's racism. I think many Republicans tend to believe the racist side of their own propaganda.  They think Obama will be an unintelligent pushover; meanwhile, he runs circles around them. It's like Obama is sighted while they are blind.

Maybe also there is for some a general belief that Dems aren't smart. Dangerous to believe your own disinformation.

by cantelow on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 08:09:57 AM EST
It's what lost them this last election, and why they were so blind-sided by it.
by evodevo on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 10:48:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The defense cuts in the sequester are massive. The GOP has two choices: back up all the talk and shut down the government, in the process crushing a core sponsor in addition to the business community while owning that outcome politically to an unprecedented degree, or rip itself apart and render the teaparty caucus even more irrelevant by making another deal with Obama.

All the talk you hear from republicans in the next couple months is just empty boasting. In fact I think the fantastical nature of the talk is inversely proportional to the strength of their position. They are in checkmate.

by torpid bunny on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 08:20:16 AM EST
Cuts to defense? Let's call it what it really is, red state military industrial complex welfare. That's better,no?

Just a guy made of dots and lines.

by BobX on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 08:52:33 AM EST
But I was just reading today how Boner thinks he's in the catbird seat on the sequester! Which one is wrong?

All the hand-wringing about how terrible Obama is at negotiating reminds me of the lead-up to ObamaCare. He really sucked at that, huh?

Plus, he's going to do gun-control in his spare time before the debt ceiling and the sequester, with immigration as a chaser.

Time to buy more Kimberly-Clark stock. DependsTM -- now in Republican sizes!

by Veritas78 on Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:22:46 PM EST
Like to see someone like you actually analyze the negotiations, not from a chess perspective but from poker in which the environment (the dealer) is unpredictable.  Which adds a third party to the negotiation.

One unpredictability this time around is the growing plausibility of using platinum coin seignorage on an emergency basis.  Having that option is a wild card whether it's played or not.

Also exploring the bluffing strategy.

50 states, 210 media markets, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts, 520,000 elected offices

by TarheelDem on Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:25:44 PM EST
Sorry, I don't buy this reasoning.

Yes, the republicans don't want defense cuts. More importantly, they don't want to be blamed for the sequester. But the people who will be hurt by the actual implementation of this "policy" are predominantly democratic-leaning (also known as the majority of the country). If Obama, and by extension, the Democrats were cool with sequestration, they would have just gone over the fiscal cliff. The mass of the damage comes from this, not the tax hikes.

by Joelcr ( on Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:26:10 PM EST
It's not that Democrats are "cool with sequestration" - they're less afraid of it than Republicans. It's like the old joke about two guys in the woods who get surprised by a grizzly bear. One puts on running shoes and the second asks him if he thinks he can actually outrun the bear. The first replies, "No, I only have to outrun you." In this race the Democrats may not be fast, but they're way faster than the Republicans. That's Booman's point.
by Oscar In Louisville on Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:43:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hadn't heard that one.  I like it.  

"Compass card is spinning, Helm is swinging to and fro, Oh, where's the dog star, Oh, where's the moon?"
by BooMan on Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:46:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If Obama, and by extension, the Democrats were cool with sequestration, they would have just gone over the fiscal cliff.

Going over the fiscal cliff also meant a big middle class tax hike, the expiration of the green energy tax credits, and of extended unemployment insurance.

There are many reasons why the Democrats would be fine with letting the sequestration happen, but not want to go over the fiscal cliff.

Art is the handmaid of human good.

by joe from Lowell ( on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 02:04:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And this suggests that separating the Sequester from UI, middle-class tax hikes, etc. even if only for the much bemoaned two months was advantage Obama.

Now it's the Sequester, the continuing resolution, and the debt ceiling.  If the debt ceiling is non-negotiable, Boehner's bigger chip is the CR.  

Unlike the expiring CR, the Sequester, set to automatically kick-in if it happens, will not shut down the government.  There would be furloughs, closings, reductions, etc. but the Sequester does not close the government.

The rhetoric marrying the two suggests to me that the real horse-trading (again likely advantage Obama) will be hidden from the dull-witted Teabaggers, with Boehner and McConnell's acquiescence, in the new CR.  

by wwwanderer on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 04:11:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it only seems like yesterday that Boehner was swinging his dick and flinging feces.

The increase in the nation's debt limit is the Republicans' "leverage" in discussions about wider fiscal issues, House Speaker John Boehner has told President Barack Obama.

"There is a price for everything," Boehner told the president

Heh...yes, there sure is.

And ain't it just a bitch?

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity"

by MikeInOhio on Thu Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:43:04 PM EST
etc. I learned this from the most self-admiring sources on the Internet. Not only is he a sucky, cowardly, naive, negotiator, but he's just looking for an excuse to cut social safety nets, his real objective. 100000 progressives can't be wrong can they? Not again?
by rootless2 (none) on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 10:44:47 AM EST
"...But the kinds of cuts that Boehner's caucus wants (big cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) are deeply unpopular. Every time Washington thinks about tinkering with these third rails of politics, they propose a commission so that both sides can share the blame."

Unfortunately, if cuts to SS/Medi/Medi are passed with any Democratic fingerprints at all, the plutocrats and their enablers in the MSM will see to it that the Dems take all the blame. Witness the Medicare funding cuts in the ACA, which cut not one thin dime in benefits to individual recipients. The 2010 and 2012 elections became a Republikkkan playfield of racist lies about those cuts.

So, I worry about these upcoming negotiations. Cutting these programs is terrible policy and terrible politics. I can't even believe we find ourself at this place, where leading Dems openly entertain picking up the knife and slashing the programs, the millions who desperately need them fully sustained, the current and future economy, and their own electoral hopes at once.


by centerfielddj on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 12:06:56 PM EST
First of all, you don't know any history. SS was slashed to the bone by DanieMoynihan decades ago.

Second, you have the usual Progressive misunderstanding of how to negotiate. The way to win is not to point at your most critical points and start wailing that you will never give. Especially in this kind of negotiation, your goal is to win your  position by selling your opponents as unreasonable extremists.

Finally, trickle down Keynsianism is no way to look at government. 30% of medicare, for example, is stolen/wasted, often to benefit GOP businesses that live on scamming the government. Cutting that is neither harmful to the economy nor to the social welfare system.

by rootless2 (none) on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 12:15:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, I'm very well aware that SS has already been cut; I'm barely on the wrong side of the demographic line, and will have to wait longer to access this program which I've paid for. It is the very fact that SS has already been cut that gives policymakers little to no room for further cuts.

For example, if the proposed delay in Medicare eligibility were passed, we'd be making the same age group wait extra years to access BOTH SS and Medicare? Those years of 65 to 67 are when the average person has both declining income and rising health care needs. That's a disaster waiting to happen, particularly since these cuts would happen to a group of seniors whose savings, pensions and other income securities will be, almost always through no fault of their own, sharply lower than current generations of retirees. It's quite literally crazy to be considering these cuts now.

I agree, negotiating is an art, and placing blame on Republicans for being intransigent would be an important part of winning. But if you're willing to negotiate anything, no one has an idea of your basic principles, and the political costs of cutting these programs will be paid by Democrats much more than they should.

Finally, I'm uninterested in accepting a random, unattributed number for Medicare waste and fraud. In this area, it's important to consider the effect that cuts to government employees has in making it more difficult to regulate and enforce all our programs. "There's fraud in large government programs, so let's make it much more difficult for regulators to find that fraud- rinse and repeat." It's quite the scam.  


by centerfielddj on Sat Jan 12th, 2013 at 11:41:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some of the comments in this thread remind me of one of Lincoln's aphorisms: "The hen is the wisest of all the animal creation because she never cackles until after the egg has been laid." Let's wait and see how things actually turn out before we cackle about the brilliance of Democratic strategery.
by Steve LaBonne on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 12:59:50 PM EST
We are supposed to caterwaul about caving, defeat, and betrayal before the negotiations conclude.
by rootless2 (none) on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 04:18:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The wise person does neither.
by Steve LaBonne on Fri Jan 11th, 2013 at 04:29:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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