When Compromise Is Impossible

The President Obama lost his cool with Speaker Boehner on debt negotiations is not nearly as important as the underlying reason a deal couldn't be reached.

Bob Woodward is once again making news, this time with revelations about President Obama losing his famous cool. But that’s not the real story.

ABC News (“Bob Woodward Book: Debt Deal Collapse Led to ‘Pure Fury’ From President Obama“)

An explosive mix of dysfunction, miscommunication, and misunderstandings inside and outside the White House led to the collapse of a historic spending and debt deal that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were on the verge of reaching last summer, according to revelations in author Bob Woodward’s latest book.

The book, “The Price of Politics,” on sale Sept. 11, 2012, shows how close the president and the House speaker were to defying Washington odds and establishing a spending framework that included both new revenues and major changes to long-sacred entitlement programs.

But at a critical juncture, with an agreement tantalizingly close, Obama pressed Boehner for additional taxes as part of a final deal — a miscalculation, in retrospect, given how far the House speaker felt he’d already gone.

The president called three times to speak with Boehner about his latest offer, according to Woodward. But the speaker didn’t return the president’s phone call for most of an agonizing day, in what Woodward calls a “monumental communications lapse” between two of the most powerful men in the country.

When Boehner finally did call back, he jettisoned the entire deal. Obama lost his famous cool, according to Woodward, with a “flash of pure fury” coming from the president; one staffer in the room said Obama gripped the phone so tightly he thought he would break it.

“He was spewing coals,” Boehner told Woodward, in what is described as a borderline “presidential tirade.”

“He was pissed…. He wasn’t going to get a damn dime more out of me. He knew how far out on a limb I was. But he was hot. It was clear to me that coming to an agreement with him was not going to happen, and that I had to go to Plan B.”

[…]

While questions persist about whether any grand bargain reached by the principals could have actually passed in the Tea Party-dominated Congress, Woodward issues a harsh judgment on White House and congressional leaders for failing to act boldly at a moment of crisis. Particular blame falls on the president.

“It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama,” Woodward writes.

Woodward has famously been covering presidential politics for four decades now; I’m flummoxed that he’s maintained this level of naivete about the process.

It’s certainly true that “no one was running Washington.” But that’s simple the nature of our system: it’s specifically designed to make it next to impossible to get anything done when there’s no consensus between the White House and Capitol Hill. Which, of course, there hasn’t been since a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks—nearly eleven years ago.

Last summer, the president’s party was still stinging from defeat in the midterm elections the previous November. The House was now controlled by not only the opposition party but a wing of it that that were True Believers on low taxes and massively reduced spending. Senate Republicans had enough votes to stop the majority Democrats at every turn as well and were bound and determined to do so.

On the surface of it, then, Obama would seem to have miscalculated by coming back at the eleventh hour demanding yet more tax increases—let alone blowing his stack when he was inevitably turned back. One suspects Bill Clinton would have figured out how to make it work. But, as poisonous as the atmosphere was in 1995, compromise was not yet widely seen as treason by the base of both parties.

Had Obama capitulated and let the deal go through minus the additional cuts, he’d have been excoriated by a progressive coalition already bitter that he wasn’t doing enough for their agenda. And, while that might have been a political risk worth taking, it probably wasn’t if the White House was skeptical of Boehner’s ability to get even that deal through the House.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Boehner, either. He was going to have hard enough a time selling the deal to his caucus with any tax hikes at all. Recall that, months later, not a single Republican presidential candidate allowed that they would take a deal of even 10-t0-1 spending cuts to tax increases. Boehner would have been a fool to agree to a deal that would put his job in peril with no hope of success.

The bottom line, then, is a deal that both sides could live with simply wasn’t in the cards. So, they didn’t reach a deal.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, 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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. So, we get a replay in 2013.

    I hope that the “we were so close” messaging is actually groundwork for a deal.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    This makes it seem like the additional revenues were a bridge too far…but it’s completely abstract and so you can’t judge.
    What was the deal? And how much more were asked for? Was it unreasonable? Or was it completely reasonable?

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Speaker Boehner knew that his deal with the President wasn’t going to be accepted by his own party. I think Boehner was relieved that the talks collapsed.

  4. @C. Clavin:

    I think in retrospect it’s easy to say that either of the two “last stands” (Boehner’s or Obama’s) were better than what we got. As this and every other article notes though, there isn’t really strong evidence that either “last stand” would have made it through Congress.

    And of course the ultimate backdrop is that “plan B” (the sequestration plan) passed, but without any serious commitment. Backers of that “plan” now wish to undo it.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: We have to get off this merry-go-round at some point. I just don’t see how it happens right now. It’d be easier for a President Romney than a President Obama—absent some landslide that gives Democrats back the House, which ain’t happening. But Senate Democrats are hardly going to be in a mood to deal given the last four years.

    @C. Clavin: Given that the Tea Party all came to office on a version of Grover Norquist’s “no taxes, period” pledge, the fact that Boehner had already given some on taxes was a risk. So, more than some was surely too much whatever the numbers.

  6. Simon says:

    There isn’t always a workable compromise, and when there is, it isn’t always good policy.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’d be easier for a President Romney than a President Obama

    Are you saying that Republicans are impossible to deal with, whereas Democrats are not?

  8. @James Joyner:

    A President Romney, “compromising” with Boehner’s and the Teas, scares the hell out of me.

    Please remember that the most moderate proposals, starting points, have come from the Dems.

    While it may be true that in the past “the liberal party” was not always the source for balanced, market favoring, solutions – they are now.

  9. Rob in CT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    This.

    Without knowing what the deal on the table was, and the proposed change to it, how can one judge this? What revenue increase had Boehner agreed to (and could he make that stick with his side) and what extra did Obama want?

  10. Remember:

    On Dec. 31, 2006, Romney became the first major candidate in the 2008 presidential election to sign a prominent taxpayer protection pledge offered by Americans for Tax Reform, an influential anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist.

    “In signing the pledge, Gov. Romney firmly commits himself in writing to fiscal discipline and economic common sense,” Norquist said in a news release. “Mitt Romney has told taxpayers in no uncertain terms that he plans to look out for their interests.”

  11. (I guess in your heart you think that in Romney’s heart he won’t honor the pledge, James?)

  12. Crusty Dem says:

    Oh good, another Woodward insidery bullshit book that lauds those who gives him access and rails those who don’t. I can’t wait.

  13. mattb says:

    I highly suggest reading the entire article (it’s a full four pages)… there’s a lot of damning stuff for both sides in there.

    Much of it confirms things we already knew or assumed.

    That said, reading the candid opinions of a number of these players (including the fact that both Biden and Cantor openly wished that they had been the two parties carrying out these talks) is pretty eye opening.

  14. Rick Almeida says:

    @James Joyner:

    James, has anything in your training, experience, or knowledge given you an indication that President Romney would do anything other than sign anything put before him by a Republican-controlled Congress?

  15. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Mostly, I think the Republicans are likely to retain control of the House and gain seats in the Senate. Obama will be a lame duck. That’s a recipe for four more years of nothing. I’m not confident Romney will agree to tax rate hikes, either; but he’ll at least have leverage for cuts, loophole closing, and the like.

  16. JKB says:

    Well, it seems to me, if the terms were already out there for both of them, throwing a tantrum because you don’t get even more isn’t a good Presidential trait.

    There’s been a lot of talk about congressional Republican intransigence. Oddly, little about Obama’s intransigence. Seems to me the congressional Republicans got their signal from the voters more recently than Obama.

    In any case, as a leader you often encounter intransigence. As President of the United States, you encounter it at the highest stakes in international relations where throwing a tantrum can cause a war. As a leader, you either find away to manage or overcome it or you get let go.

  17. @James Joyner:

    I guess that’s why we all get to vote separate. I, myself, would never reward a Norquist signer.

  18. @James Joyner: how naive are you, a President Romney will close loopholes — the only loopholes that are big enough to generate serious cash significantly benefit the GOP donor class. The only decent size “loop-hole” that does not is the Earned Income Tax Credit (a Republican idea).

    We’ll get lower marginal rates, even lower taxes on capital gains, and promises of either the Confidence Fairy or the Dynamic Scoring Dragon producing new revenue.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @ James…
    I guess I’m confused about the process. It was a negotiation…correct? So Obama asked for more. Why didn’t Boehner just say no? Why did the whole thing have to come off the rails? And what kind of child doesn’t answer the friggin’ phone? It’s clear that Boehner got scared about how far he had gone and wanted to take it all back because he didn’t have control of his caucus. I fail to see how asking for more in a negotiation makes it Obama’s fault. That’s what negotiations are…give and take. Seems to me the bottom line is that they were never really close because Boehner never could really deliver and was only yanking the Presidents chain.
    It’s like me talking to someone about buying a Ferrarri…we might get close to a deal…but if I don’t actually have the money it was never a real deal in from the beginning.

  20. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not confident Romney will agree to tax rate hikes, either; but he’ll at least have leverage for cuts, loophole closing, and the like.

    Possibly, but given his pledges to the Military, it’s unlikely that cuts in that area will be on the table. And, unless Republicans gain control of the Senate and force everything through the reconciliation process on sheer party line votes, cuts to the social programs only are DOA regardless of whether the Dems are in the majority or the minority.

  21. In a strange parallel, Justin Fox argues that if you love stimulus (and expanded deficits) vote Republican:

    There’s a case to be made (and, in fact, it has been made) that, if what you think the U.S. economy needs is more fiscal and monetary stimulus, you should vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in November (or, if you’re not a U.S. citizen, pray for a Romney/Ryan victory). This is despite the fact that Romney and Ryan say they’re against fiscal stimulus, and the Republican Party platform calls for a return to the gold standard (the opposite of monetary stimulus). The reasoning is pretty simple: the likely Republican majority in the House and the possible Republican majority in the Senate will work against any attempt by President Obama to stimulate the economy — or do much of anything else, for that matter. Whereas if Romney moves into the White House, Republican lawmakers will cut him slack and the Democrats will too if he pushes policies that they wanted in the first place. A similar if less-stark dynamic could play out on the monetary-policy Federal Open Market Committee, where inflation hawks with Republican leanings would discover they weren’t so hawkish after all.

    Note that this sure as heck ain’t a “fiscal responsibly” argument.

    What’s more, federal budget deficits have over the past century generally grown under Republican administrations and shrunk under Democrats. And for whatever it’s worth, the stock market usually does better under Democrats than Republicans.

    A good and wide-ranging piece.

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @ JP…
    I’ve been saying this for months. If Romney and Ryan are elected they will do what Republicans always do…spend oodles of money and grow the Government. They are fiscal frauds.
    My problem with them is on Foreign Policy and the SCOTUS. They can do irreparable damage there.

  23. Rob in CT says:

    Ok, I’ve now read the whole thing, and sign on to what Mattb said. While I continue to believe that GOP stance on revenue is irresponsible and unreasonable, there were clear missteps on the D side that helped prevent an agreement. And I do want an agreement (though certainly I have my preferences concerning its details).

    JP: that’s the “pay the hostage taker” argument, basically.

  24. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Had Obama capitulated and let the deal go through minus the additional cuts, he’d have been excoriated by a progressive coalition already bitter that he wasn’t doing enough for their agenda. And, while that might have been a political risk worth taking, it probably wasn’t if the White House was skeptical of Boehner’s ability to get even that deal through the House.

    Obama has NEVER been able to take a stand against his party, no matter the provocation. He’s a leader who can’t compel other leaders to follow him. Remember, this is the guy who came out of the incredibly corrupt Chicago Democratic machine and never said word one about a single case of Democratic corruption — Blagojevich, Rezko, Valerie Jarrett the slumlord, and so on.

    As noted, he and Boehner had a deal worked out, and then at the last minute Obama tried to wring a few more concessions out of Boehner without, apparently, offering anything in return. And then threw a temper tantrum when he didn’t get his way.

    So much for Mr. Cool…

  25. Rob in CT says:

    The Biden/Cantor side discussion thing is pretty funny. Oh yeah, we’d totally get it done. Those guys (whose jobs we probably want, if not right now then later) are screwing it up. Except Cantor is more extreme than Boehner, as far as I can tell. I wouldn’t expect much difference between Biden and Obama on substance, so all that’s left is style. And yeah, style matters with people, sure. But even granting that and assuming the style would’ve been better (Crazy Uncle Joe > Professor Obama?), I rather doubt Biden/Cantor would’ve lead to a deal.

    Both guys were out on limbs, from the point of view of their bases of support, right? Obama looks at $800B in revenue and figures he needs more to sell it. Boehner figures $800 is already too much, and then hears POTUS asks for $400B more and there’s his reason/excuse to deep-six the whole thing.

    Then Congress goes and does the sequester thing which they all basically hate and we know will, if actually enacted, likely cause another recession. Hence the attempts to weasel out of it.

  26. DRE says:

    @James Joyner: It’d be easier for a President Romney than a President Obama—absent some landslide that gives Democrats back the House, which ain’t happening.

    Just like it was easier for Bush, than it was for Obama. And look how well that worked out. Do you really think that Romney will take any political risk in pushing entitlement reform when what he really cares about is tax cuts. With a Republican administration, all you would get is the fantasy that if we just cut taxes and regulations enough, the economy would produce so much that the deficit will take care of itself, along with lots of whining about “takers”.

    Any serious reform will need to build a mechanism to tie taxation to deficit control, so that everyone has to take spending decisions seriously. Obama would have been a fool to accept any deal that didn’t include a serious long term revenue increase. The problem is that there is a real difference of opinion between the parties in terms of the appropriate size and nature of government, but they don’t really engage in that debate. Over the last couple of decades a sort of deal has been in place (and supported by the voting public) that each party wins when they want to spend (economic and social programs for the Dems; military for the Reps), and when they cut taxes (middle or working class cuts for Dems, high end cuts for Reps). There is no mechanism to tie tax decisions to spending decisions, and no political payoff for any real effort to control the deficit.

    I think that the Democrats have made more of an effort to pursue the revenue needed for their vision of government, but Republicans have shown themselves to have a single minded focus on tax reduction in their actions, and the current set of Romney-Ryan proposals make that clear. They are quite specific about the taxes they want to cut, but the rest is pure fantasy which can only result in even more ballooning deficits. The only reason they have a chance of winning is that no one really takes the cuts which would be required seriously, especially since they haven’t bothered to spell them out.

  27. PD Shaw says:

    But at a critical juncture, with an agreement tantalizingly close, Obama pressed Boehner for additional taxes as part of a final deal — a miscalculation, in retrospect, given how far the House speaker felt he’d already gone.

    If Obama was re-opening an issue that was beleived to be settled (and “additional taxes” sounds like it was), then it was a dirty trick. The proper response to escalating demands according to the Harvard Negotiation Project is to draw Obama’s attention to it and discontinue negotations until Boehner can decide if and under what conditions to reopen negotiation. A person can’t begin negotiating against themselves and its usually best to stop at this point before falling into the temptation of personalizing the issues and engaing in retlatory escalating demands.

  28. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin: I fail to see how asking for more in a negotiation makes it Obama’s fault. That’s what negotiations are…give and take.

    Asking for more wasn’t the problem, throwing a tantrum was.

    If Obama was so certain Boehner couldn’t deliver then reaching an agreement was really in his best interest. He could then say, “see I went so far but they couldn’t meet me in the middle”. No his fear was Boehner might deliver then he’d have to explain the giveaway to his zealots on the Left.

  29. @PD Shaw:

    There is no blameless party here. Certainly Boehner could, and perhaps, should have pushed back that “we had a deal” and “that’s where I’ll stay.”

    As James and many others note though, he didn’t do that. He chose a “plan B” that he, and its authors, should now wear.

  30. Let’s note that there was nothing to stop Boehner from introducing what he thought was “the deal” to Congress. No legal obstacle. There was only a political obstacle. He knew his own party would not support it.

  31. Rob in CT says:

    You do, in fact, have to reject “escalating demands” in negotiation. You do not, however, need to break them off entirely (and go with “Plan B”). It depends.

    One of the key problems with this sort of negotiation is that the people doing the negotiating didn’t have firm control of their sides. It’s pretty clear the teas were hostile to Boehner, and the progressive wing of the Dems was pissed at Obama for being so willing to cut social programs.

    Anyway, if Obama really agreed to $800B in revenue and there were no remaining issues, and then he came back with a request for $400B more, yes, the failure of the deal is on him. Note that one can look at the deal with $800B in revenue and think it’s a terrible deal (my PoV). Also, it’s not clear to me if the deal was done – were there any moving parts? Was the $400B request tied to anything else?

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @ JKB…
    That doesn’t even make sense.

  33. DRE says:

    @DRE: Any serious reform will need to build a mechanism to tie taxation to deficit control, so that everyone has to take spending decisions seriously.

    Congress tries to independently control spending, tax policy, and size of the debt. It’s just not possible. We’ve seen what happens when we try to use the debt limit to control spending. There is a much simpler mechanism which might have a better chance of working. Congress could set overall tax rates but allow the IRS to scale everything in order to correct for the size of the deficit in the prior year’s budget. That would allow the costs to be a relevant part of the discussion of the appropriate level of government. Each year’s budget would be argued in the context of actually paying for the previous year’s, rather than just looking at an increasing debt load..

  34. C. Clavin says:

    @ Indiana Jones…

    “…Obama has NEVER been able to take a stand against his party, no matter the provocation…”

    That’s just total BS.
    His signature accomplishment…the PPACA…the party wanted a public option.
    If you consider that almost everything you type is wrong…maybe you should simply reconsider.

  35. CB says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    As noted, he and Boehner had a deal worked out, and then at the last minute Obama tried to wring a few more concessions out of Boehner without, apparently, offering anything in return. And then threw a temper tantrum when he didn’t get his way.

    Hardly. The article makes it pretty clear that a deal was close, but not THAT close. I think that both men knew that any deal they reached would be inevitably scrapped by their bases, and the only real move they were left with was, sadly, political.

  36. CB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    And the tax cut extensions, and gitmo, and Afghanistan (sort of)…

    Im not the guys biggest fan, but come on. He hasnt exactly been a liberal firebrand here.

  37. Just Me says:

    This article pretty much confirms for me at least that Obama isn’t much of an idea man or much of a leader.

    This isn’t saying that the republicans weren’t part of the problem, but one thing about Clinton is that he was often good at vision casting and getting people on board in a practical way and he wasn’t afraid of compromise. I do think at this point both democrats and republicans are afraid of compromise, but there is no way to govern without it. I also think Obama may be a little naive.

    I think Obama is just not a roll your sleeves up and hammer things out kind of guy. YOu have to do that especially when your party is the minority in either or both houses of congress. Clinton had his issues, but when it came to governing I think he excelled. I don’t think there has been a president as capable since.

    Oh and it helps that Clinton was better at articulating his ideas in practical ways. Obama is more flowery and full of goals-I just don’t think he has a lot of vision with regards to making those ideas a reality much less that he knows how to work out a compromise.

  38. @Just Me:

    I forget, who again is Grover Norquist, and what is his role in the Republican party?

  39. CB says:

    @Just Me:

    This article pretty much confirms for me at least that Obama isn’t much of an idea man or much of a leader.

    I don’t think the problem was that he lacked ideas, but I do agree that he came into office with a goal of changing the way the executive operates (ie; the detached handling of healthcare reform), and it turned out to be, well, kind of naive. In a way, I do think he was in a little over his head, but i could be reading the situation completely wrong.

  40. Rob in CT says:

    The other thing about the lauding of Clinton is this: he too had a contentious fight over healthcare reform (that he lost), he too suffered a mid-term election defeat on his watch…

    A lot of the praise for Bill has to do with things that happened in his second term, does it not?

    I see the criticism of Obama’s relationship with Congress (the stuff w/his own party concerns me more than a tiff with Boehner). That strikes me as fair. The comparison to Clinton, however, should probably look at Bill’s 1st term only. Bill got re-elected and had more chances (to succeed and also to fail – signing Glass Steagal repeal doesn’t look so smart now).

  41. @CB:

    In a way, I do think he was in a little over his head, but i could be reading the situation completely wrong.

    Possibly, but let’s identify a bit of a meta-level game here.

    We know that the Republicans sign a pledge to say that they will not compromise.

    … and then some people say that Obama should compromise and make things work.

    That is “pay the hostage takers.” The only way Obama can “compromise” with the Norquist pledge in place is to give up everything and become a Republican. The only “compromise” possible is “cuts only, no tax increase.”

  42. DRE says:

    @Just Me: Clinton had his issues, but when it came to governing I think he excelled. I don’t think there has been a president as capable since.
    People say this but forget the first 3 years of Clinton’s term. For his first year and a half he was viewed and portrayed as a bumbling fool who couldn’t accomplish anything. He was considered a joke and Hillarycare was the punch-line. In the ’94 elections, the unthinkable happened and the Republican permanent minority in the House became a majority. ’95 is the year people really seem to forget, with Republican refusal to compromise leading to multiple gov’t shutdowns. The big difference came in ’96 when the Republicans decided that real compromise was possible and negotiated in good faith. Clinton was credited with effective governing and was re-elected. The current crop of Republicans learned something from that. Not that it is possible to work together, but that the President gets the credit if you do. They were determined from the beginning that Obama must fail, and their refusal of all offers has been absolute, even following the debacle of the debt limit crisis. They were and are determined to prevent Obama from becoming another Clinton.

  43. rudderpedals says:

    Throw out normal negotiating strategies since they rely on the parties having authority to negotiate. By the time Woodward picks up the narrative Cantor had achieved his bloodless coup and became the nominal leader of the GOP, the only one who could bring the tea partiers along. To the extent Obama did not appreciate that Boehner was a stalking horse it’s possible to assign blame. Woodward had a much more interesting story here in the nihilism of the House but it wouldn’t fit in the election narrative.

    (C. Clavin pointed this out already)

  44. CB says:

    @john personna:

    Oh I’m with you there. Congressional intransigence has clearly been a huge part of the problem. I was only noting that his initial vision of ‘transforming’ the presidency, as I saw it, didn’t square with the realities of the office, and I think he realized that right quick.

  45. michael reynolds says:

    I see James and Doug both got the Official GOP Message of the Day: We’re still crazy! We’ll burn the country down if we have to!

    That’s not water you’re carrying now. It’s raw sewage. Aren’t you guys embarrassed? Is this why you got into politics? To threaten nihilism?

  46. Michael,

    Just because someone disagrees with the President, that doesn’t make them crazy, you know.

    Also, I suggest you read that paragraph from Dave Schuler I quoted in my own post.

  47. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No, it’s not crazy to disagree with Mr. Obama.

    It’s crazy — and worse, unpatriotic — to make holding onto power at all costs, stating publicly your intention to destroy a presidency, your primary goal as a party. That’s all the GOP has stood for in these last almost four years. The naked lust for power, the decision to put party above country.

    This is still supposed to be about the United States of America. It is not supposed to be only about power.

    When tribe trumps nation we are no longer the United States.

  48. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m not sure I’m seeing your point here. The “meme of the day” is Obama blowing his stack. That’s not a GOP talking point but rather an ABC News report stemming from Bob Woodward’s latest insider tome. My argument is that the yelling isn’t so interesting as the underlying dynamic: Neither side can take the political risk to do what they both know needs doing.

  49. @James Joyner:

    Neither side can take the political risk to do what they both know needs doing.

    So, we know that the Republicans have their “no tax increase” Norquist pledge.

    I’d say to really make your quote work, we need to find the equivalent, Democratic, “no spending cut” commitment.

  50. (I”m sorry, the underlying GOP game has been “I reject your compromise, and re-define compromise to be complete agreement with me.” It is tragic that the press has not pushed back on that.)

  51. mattb says:

    Just recanned that article. Seems like it’s a perfect piece of political journalism in that it gives both sides a lot of ammunition for casting the “real blame” on their opponents.

    On particular think that jumps out to me is Larry Summer’s critique of Obama:

    Larry Summers, a top economic adviser to Obama who also served as Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, identified a key distinction that he said impacted budget and spending talks.

    “Obama doesn’t really have the joy of the game. Clinton basically loved negotiating with a bunch of pols, about anything,” Summers said. “Whereas, Obama, he really didn’t like these guys.”

    That’s pretty damning stuff. That said, I have seen little to suggest to me that Romney has a Clintonesque joy of the game. In fact, one area where both Obama and Romney seem rather alike is in that they both present an image of “being above it all.”

  52. @mattb:

    People have defined it as “Spock vs Spock”

  53. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    You know that’s nonsense. We’ve been willing to compromise from day 1. We didn’t say we wanted to destroy your party, you stated you wanted to destroy the president. We didn’t say, “No compromise,” your side did. Even when it means rejecting their own ideas, the GOP refuses to cut deals.

    This isn’t “both sides do it,” James. Your side does it. Just your side. From day 1 of this presidency. Because when it comes right down to it, your side will sell out the country to give billionaires another 5% tax cut.

    There is – and I mean this literally – nothing the GOP won’t do to ensure a little more profit for men like Mitt Romney.

  54. Spartacus says:

    James wrote: “One suspects Bill Clinton would have figured out how to make it work.”

    Do you mean the way Clinton was able to get all of that GOP support for his budget in 1993?

  55. Contra James’ hope above for a compromising Romney Presidency, Grover Norquist is actually out there arguing that a Romney election would be a mandate for his no-tax-increase plan and pledge:

    Grover Norquist: Fear of Tax Increase Will Turn Vote to Romney

    Grover Norquist, the guru of the anti-tax movement, says Mitt Romney as president would work with congressional conservatives to take the government on a historic swing to the right.

    Wonderful.

  56. Spartacus says:

    @James Joyner:

    “It’d be easier for a President Romney than a President Obama”

    Easier for a President Romney to do what? The guy’s plan is to INCREASE the deficit by trillions!

  57. David M says:

    I didn’t like the deal, but it’s still clear that the GOP broke off the negotiations. It still seems odd to me that Obama making a request for something during a negotiation is newsworthy. What are negotiations for if not that?

  58. PD Shaw says:

    @Rob in CT: Usually Plan B in politics is to wait until the next election, particularly if one side (in this case the Republicans) can be reasonably optimistic that their situation will improve in the meantime. And if Democrats doubted Boehner’s ability to get enough Republican votes, it may have made sense for them to wait as well to see how he was able to lead his new caucus. Note the distinction, Obama will be gone in a few years, most of the members of Congress will not be.

    “One of the key problems with this sort of negotiation is that the people doing the negotiating didn’t have firm control of their sides.” What I don’t see mentioned in the article are vote-counters. Was Obama working with Democratic allies to determine how many Democratic votes he could expect to support a grand compromise and their count on how many Republican votes were available?

    What I continue to wonder is the identity of any of Obama’s legislative allies, the people with whom he meets and gossips, through whom legislation is introduced, etc. . . Former legislators that are now in his Administration aren’t sufficient for that role.

  59. Moosebreath says:

    Spartacus,

    “James wrote: “One suspects Bill Clinton would have figured out how to make it work.”

    Do you mean the way Clinton was able to get all of that GOP support for his budget in 1993?”

    Or for Hillarycare? Or to avoid shutting down the government?

    While I like Clinton, I agree with Jon Chait that the Clinton nostalgia is simply wrong, but no one gains by pointing it out:

    “In an otherwise factual and persuasive speech, Bill Clinton made one argument so astonishingly brass I half-expected the crowd to laugh him out of the hall. It came when Clinton cited his own presidency as a bygone era of partisan cooperation, when he couldn’t hate the Republican Party, and the two sides would come together for the good of the country. This nostalgic riff went down like a charm, not only with the partisan crowd but with the blown-away commentariat afterward. Did none of them remember the Clinton presidency? Where the mainstream Republicans accused him daily of socialism and the conservative ones accused him of being a murderer? The apocalyptic government shutdown fights? Impeachment?

    And then it occurred to me that Clinton’s fairy tale went down so smoothly not just because of the soothing passage of time but also because nobody has an interest in reminding America of the blinding derangement that defined the Clinton-era GOP. Clinton doesn’t, as he enjoys his post-presidential role as beloved elder statesman. Republicans don’t, because they want to portray Obama as uniquely radical, and their Spartans-at-Thermopylae stand against him as a justifiable reaction to an unprecedented threat, not just the recurrent partisan hysteria that overtakes them during any Democratic presidency. And Obama doesn’t, because he wants to cast Republican opposition of his agenda as unprecedented.”

  60. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: That Grover Norquist is touting the virtues of Grover Norquist isn’t surprising.

    @Moosebreath: Clinton got thumped in 1994 and quite likely feared a reprise of his getting booted after his first term as Arkansas governor. He rebounded with the triangulation strategy and managed to take credit for Republican ideas like welfare reform, co-opting his opponents’ best ideas and using them to coast to re-election.

  61. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    And in 20 years, we’ll be saying something like:

    “Obama got thumped in 2010. He tried to rebound with the triangulation strategy and managed to take credit for Republican ideas like mandates for universal health coverage, cap-and-trade, and a balanced approach to deficit reduction, co-opting his opponents’ best ideas, except that generation’s opposition refused to take “yes” for an answer. He therefore used their unwillingness to accept their own proposals to coast to re-election.”

  62. john personna says:

    In the unlikely event of a Romney victory, Norquist is better positioned to call it a mandate than his foes to call it a repudiation.

    Thus a Norquist foe should vote Obama.

  63. @john personna: Enforcer

  64. Septimius says:

    I like the part of the article where Obama couldn’t call to congratulate Boehner on election night because no one in the White House had his phone number.

  65. Spartacus says:

    @James Joyner:

    “He rebounded with the triangulation strategy and managed to take credit for Republican ideas like welfare reform, co-opting his opponents’ best ideas and using them to coast to re-election.”

    Then how do you explain the fact that Clinton campaigned in 1992 promising to end welfare as we know it?

  66. Bob says:

    @James Joyner:

    Are you new? Boehner doesn’t have to agree to a goddamn thing; taxes will automatically rise without him, as well they should.

  67. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Not giving his side everything they wanted is NOT the same as taking a stand against them. Nowhere near close.

    And more importantly, his stand wasn’t based on principle, but (in a very rare case) pragmatism.

  68. MarkedMan says:

    There is a fundamental flaw in the Republican mindset that keeps getting ignored: They don’t pay for what they use. Oh yeah, they talk about the need to shoulder “hard truths” but the reality is they borrow money to fund their fantasies. Does anyone honestly think the Iraq or Afghanistan war would have gone on for ten years if voters saw their taxes rise to pay for it? Do you honestly think the general public would accept Romney’s and the other billionaires reduction of their tax rate to 15% (less than half of the rate I pay) if the middle class had seen a tax rise to pay for it?

    No. The reason never to pull the lever for a single “R”, even at the dogcatcher level is that as a party when they have power they become completely and totally fiscally irresponsible. This didn’t used to be true. But once George H.W. Bush was turned into a pariah simply for demanding that we pay for what we use, most of the fiscally sane left the Republican party. In the 60’s they started driving out minorities, in the 80’s it was the fiscally responsible.

  69. john personna says:

    @David Anderson:

    Double humor :-), but I don’t think I can out enforce Norquist, no.

  70. The Q says:

    Brother Joyner (channeling my inner cornel West) wrote:

    “He rebounded with the triangulation strategy and managed to take credit for Republican ideas like welfare reform, co-opting his opponents’ best ideas and using them to coast to re-election.”

    This utter bile is refuted by what happened after Clinton left office and bush came in. Bush had pretty much the same congress that Clinton did. So, instead of continuing with the “opponents best ideas”, they chucked them in favor of the “real” policies of the wingnuts, viz. tremendous wealth redistribution to the top earners and deregulation.

    I guess those surpluses, low unemployment figures and the paying off the debt by FY 2009 wasn’t good enough for the wingnuts, since with the bulwark of Clinton’s popularity gone, they ran amok and almost burned down the empire.when they put in their true supply side bs.

    Its truly amazing how this “clinton” became a right winger revisionism has stuck, when the true right wingers showed their true colors after bush was elected and completely ran away from “Clintonomics” and put in their own brand of fiscal insanity.