Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wile E. Coyote Politics

On my arrival home last night after sitting through a two-hour political action committee meeting I watched Obama's thirty-six minute press conference.  He announced that vice president Biden will lead the effort to come up with legislative proposals for gun regulation.  Then he took questions.  All questions except one dealt with the fiscal cliff.  The first questioner asked why Obama broke a campaign pledge to exclude Social Security from the budget negotiations.  Obama was defensive; and throughout the question-and-answer period the defense of his decision to meet Boehner "at least halfway" revealed a contradiction.  On the one hand Obama correctly argued that he campaigned and was elected based on a pledge to raise taxes on the wealthy, that this is what a majority of Americans want; then on the other hand he said people want compromise, and that's what he did.  Of course people can desire contradictory things.  And maybe Obama is just trying to give the people what they want.  But it's bad politics.

Krugman points out in his blog from yesterday that Obama's offer to Boehner maintains most of the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains.  Krugman was reserving judgment until he had learned more about what Obama had offered.  Now his position is that Obama must make absolutely no more concessions even if this means going over the cliff.  The problem, as Krugman points out, is that Republicans are interpreting Obama's latest offer as a sign of weakness and as proof that further concessions are close at hand.

And that is how to look at Boehner's "Plan B" scheduled for a vote today -- as a way not only to curry favor with voters if negotiations collapse but also as one last volley meant to extract more concessions from the president.  That's assuming that Boehner can get it passed.  The reporting today from Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman casts doubt on this. 

One bright spot if Boehner can't deliver his "Plan B" is we'll know that the jig is up.  Talks will be finished.  Boehner, unable to get his own bill through, won't be able to deliver anything.  Then we can, like Wile E. Coyote, settle in and get ready for life on the downside of the cliff.

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