Jonathan Chait

Obama Gets Mad

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Two interesting developments emerged tonight. The first is that the Grand Bargain appears dead. Interestingly, and contrary both to public reports and the tenor of President Obama's press conference, Obama himself drew a line. The two sides had at some point discussed a deal that would raise $800 billion in revenue over the next decade -- a terrible deal, no more than Obama would gain by fulfilling his promise to veto more Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 a year. The two sides dispute the degree to which they ever agreed on this level.

It seems likely that John Boehner tried to sell his caucus on a deal, met resistance, and then walked away from the negotiations, which seems to keep happening. Boehner, countering Obama's narrative that he "can't say yes to anything," says it was Obama who upped his demands. This line seems a little suspicious:

It’s the president who walked away from his agreement and demanded more money at the last minute.”

Prior to the breakup, discussions were already underway among Senate leaders Friday about how to proceed. Boehner has indicated some openness to a four to six week extension to get past the immediate crisis. But this short term approach still faces resistance in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid ruled it out directly Friday night as “unacceptable.”

The deal was never reached, and was never really close,” the speaker wrote in a letter to House members

It seems hard to square Boehner's claim that Obama walked away from his agreement and that no agreement ever existed. It's possible that Obama altered his offer, asking for more revenue in return for higher entitlement cuts. But if they didn't have a deal, then Obama couldn't have walked away from it.

Indeed, Boehner's spin seems like an attempt to walk the awkward line between portraying himself to the general public as willing to compromise, and convincing conservatives that he never compromised. Boehner released a letter making his case, published by Jennifer Rubin. It's pretty transparent:

 

The White House agreed to a revenue total that would set a ceiling of about $800 billion in new revenue over ten years that could be generated through economic growth and efficiencies in our tax system (not tax hikes).

•After the ‘Gang of Six’ plan was released, and in the wake the reaction from Hill Democrats, they moved the goal posts and insisted on $400 billion more in higher taxes – a 50% increase – and wanted that to the floor instead of the ceiling.

 

The first paragraph says that higher revenue came from "economic growth and efficiencies," which implies that the revenue was produced through dynamic scoring voodoo. (I doubt the administration would agree to that, and I know the Congressional Budget Office wouldn't score that.) The next paragraph refers to Obama's demand for "$400 billion more in higher taxes." So, the agreed to revenue was just "efficiencies and economic growth," while the revenue Boehner rejected was "higher taxes"? Really? I think pretty obviously it was all higher revenue from eliminating or reducing tax expenditures.

But Obama insisted on $1.2 trillion, which is still a bad deal -- $800 billion less than the Gang of Six agreed to -- though somewhat less so. After moving further and further, and further right, Obama finally stopped.

Perhaps what's more interesting is the tone of Obama's press conference. It was the most heated I'd ever seen him. And it was also the first time I can recall that he fully abandoned his stance as above the fray and spoke as the leader of the Democratic Party.

This was not a total break with his familiar persona. There was still the imploring his opponents to compromise, insisting upon his reasonableness. But he assailed Republicans for refusing to compromise, for failing even to consider the public good as opposed to the pressure of conservative activists. Whether it was an attempt to pressure Republicans to make a deal, or to set the tone for his 2012 campaign, we don't yet know. Perhaps Obama doesn't either. But it was a fascinating glimpse of the Trumanesque figure liberals have long waited to see emerge -- an Obama-ized Truman, castigating republicans for refusing to move to the center, but a Trumanesque figure all the same. perhaps he is figuring out that a political and policy strategy based on the getting Republicans to meet him halfway isn't likely to work very well.

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