Friday, July 22, 2011

Reprise: How Obama is Pwning Boehner in Debt Talks

As I watch Barack Obama, live, telling the nation that John Boehner has walked out of debt negotiation talks, I am feeling both optimistic and prescient. For convenience, I'm excerpting the "predicting the future" portion of this post (on this same site) from July 13, which I believe is holding (and will continue to hold) true:

Admittedly, Obama might not be able to pull off his hat trick. In particular, if the House were to cut its losses, abandon negotiations altogether and unilaterally pass a clean, stand-alone, two-year debt ceiling increase, it would be hard for Harry Reid not to allow a similar bill to pass the Senate, and even harder for Obama to veto it (though if he has nerves of steel he could do so, and force the House Republicans to accept a package of spending cuts and tax increases in the minutes before their midnight deadline). But in the meantime, Obama will keep slapping pucks at the G.O.P.'s beleaguered orange goalkeeper, trying to go three for three.

If winning a landslide reelection and reclaiming the House are indeed his true objectives, look for Obama to do the following:

1. Keep Taking Republicans to the Boards: At this point, this is full-contact politics. Look for Obama to keep up the hard play. Today's body blow: Obama rejected one version of a debt ceiling increase, "insisted on one comprehensive deal" (i.e., one including tax increases), threatened to veto any short-term approaches, promised to "stake his presidency" on the issue, and walked out of a meeting with Canter. Look for more of the same.

2. Divide and conquer: Obama's game depends on splitting the Tea Party Caucus from the Wall Street gray eminences, and foolish ideologues like Cantor from pragmatists like Boehner. Look for him to exploit every opportunity to drive wedges -- as he did today when he walked out of a meeting with Cantor, to Boehner's almost certain aggravation. If Obama's plan is working, on the other hand, look for ideological freshmen like Mike Lee (R-UT) to stop saying stupid, divisive things -- a sign that their elders are explaining how the world really works. And also look for the better strategists on the G.O.P. side to air increasingly desperate plans to avoid being forced to raise taxes -- which will, in turn, bring fresh waves of outcry from party purists.To aggravate Republicans' internal divide, also look for Obama to uncharacteristically toss darts and jibes at the TeaParty to aggravate it further, at least until the deal's down to the short strokes.

3. Move to the Right on Debt: If the G.O.P. suggests a clean debt ceiling increase, Obama will co-opt the "debts matter" argument and, with less-politically-savvy purists like Paul Krugman screaming epithets at him, will demand budget cuts (and, by the way, just one wafer-thin little tax increase!) as part of any deal. He will reiterate, over and over, that if not now, when? He will, to the dismay of the people at FireDogLake, adopt Frank Lautenberg talking points, crying that he does not want Sasha and Malia to inherit debt simply because John Boehner isn't willing to cut spending (with, again, just one tiny, insignificant tax increase attached).

4. Appear to be Caving on Cuts and Entitlements: Perversely, if Obama is focused on retaking the House, he will temper his hard-line position on tax increases by being almost ridiculously open to spending cuts and entitlement "reform" that his base considers intolerable. There are several reasons for this. First, the "raising taxes" pill is so poisonous that nearly any sacrifice that leads to them swallowing it is worthwhile. Obama is willing to eat a lot of garbage in exchange for the Republicans swallowing one teeny, tiny little tablet of cyanide. Second, any major cuts that pass the House must still pass the (Democrat-controlled) Senate. Finally, regaining both Houses of Congress opens the possibility of Democrats repairing any damage to entitlements that today's deal causes.

5. Almost inexplicably, keep avoiding a "clean vote" on the debt ceiling: Even down to the last minute. Good games of chicken take it all the way to the edge of the cliff.

Finally, how will we know if Obama has completely pwn3d the G.O.P.? Easy: the House of Representatives will, before the default deadline, pass a negotiated package that lifts the debt ceiling, contains something that can be characterized by wingnuts as a tax increase, and infests the G.O.P.'s 2012 platform's "debt hawk" plank with so much dryrot that it will be unsafe for them to stand on it.

No comments: