How Negotiation Works

negotiationIn regards the current internecine Democratic fight over the health care compromise, Megan McArdle argues that many people are simply naive about as to how the negotiation process operates:

This bill is, at this point, hideously unpopular.  I’m pretty sure you’ve got a bunch of senators who would really, really love not to vote for it.  Ultimately, the moderates had a very good alternative to negotiated agreement, and the progressives didn’t, and that was crystal clear from Day 1.  That meant the progressives were never, ever going to get very much.  This was not a failure of political will or political skill.  It was the manifestation of a political reality that has long been obvious to everyone who wasn’t living in a fantasy world.  If progressives decide that the lesson from this is that they haven’t been sufficiently demanding and intransigent, they are going to find themselves about as popular with the rest of America as the Bush Republicans, and probably lose their party the House next year.

While I wouldn’t go quite that far — it’s going to take a lot of lost seats for that to happen — she’s certainly right that a lot of people on both extremes have an outsized view of how large their coalition is.   There’s a growing sense that we need to “do something” to fix our health care mess, there’s very little consensus on what, exactly, we should do.  Which means that the old saw about negotiations — that you have to be willing to walk away — likely won’t have the intended effect — because the other parties aren’t particularly anxious to strike a deal.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Healthcare Policy, Political Theory, US Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Yes, this post struck me, too. I thought it was a very good point about negotiation joined to a not nearly as good point about likely outcomes.

    Since the Congress began talking about this after President Obama’s inauguration, I’ve thought the progressive Congressional leadership was overreaching. You can hardly blame them. It’s been a long time between drinks. However, they were clearly bound for disappointment.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t have an urgent need to do something. I tried to explain why that was in a post yesterday. Either government borrowing or taxes will increase without bounds and, as has been said, anything that isn’t sustainable won’t be sustained.

    It also doesn’t mean that Congress will be eager to return to healthcare reform any time soon however urgent the need. A burnt child dreads the fire.

    Nonetheless, something really needs to be done. I’ve long believe that the “something” would require a grand compact among all of the stakeholders to sacrifice something in order to avoid something much worse. That would be a pretty tough sell and I’m afraid it would require a greater level of maturity among our legislators than seems apparent right now.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    That picture is an interesting counterpoint to the issue. That’s what a traditional negotiation looks like, with two sides represented by an individual selected for their negotiating ability.

    That’s decidedly not what the Senate looks like — that would be all the pieces bunched together, each of which with their own issues to negotiate. The leaders, if any, serve at the sufferance of the others.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Worse yet, PD, the leaders are chosen for their loyalty to the group even at the expense of the ability to negotiate.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Maybe it only gets this way with extremely large, unruly pieces of legislation. Break this abomination apart and pass effective measures one at a time. It’s obvious the public option will not fly so small steps that can be measured for success is the way to go. Heh, billions instead of trillions.

  5. Wayne says:

    Re “people on both extremes have an outsized view of how large their coalition is”

    The same apply to the so called”moderates”. People are fracture in all sorts of groups all along the political spectrum. Believing most people think just like you is just fooling yourself.

    I agree with PD that the picture is turning into a jumble mixture with no clearly define leader on both sides. IMO there are many reason for that. One, the leadership has failed and\or betrayed them in the past. Two, with such slim margins on filibuster proof, individuals are finding a great deal of power and mean to be paid off. Three both sides have greatly muddled what they stand by vying for the middle or not standing for anything. I give credit to the Dems for regardless of their claims end up trying to pass liberal agenda. Their policies are wrong but consistent. The GOP have become Dem lite, big but not as “Dem big” Government and excessive but not as “Dem excessive” spending.

  6. Wayne says:

    To state the obvious, if they did they couldn’t get any of their other B.S. agenda, pork projects or hidden unrelated amendments past.

  7. James Joyner says:

    The same apply to the so called”moderates”. People are fracture in all sorts of groups all along the political spectrum. Believing most people think just like you is just fooling yourself.

    That’s right. Most Americans think of themselves as “conservative” or “moderate.” But the people who self-label in each of those categories are actually widely divergent. “Moderates,” almost by definition, pick and choose on a situational basis.

  8. Wayne says:

    That is pretty much any group. It is a matter of which side their decision tend to fall on or if they are willing to stand for anything. Then there are those who stand for noting but winning.