What Should the President Have Done?

This is a follow-up to my previous article. What would you have done under the circumstances regarding the tax cut deal? Why?


About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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38 Responses to What Should the President Have Done?

  1. mclever says:

    I’m OK with the deal negotiated by Obama, not ecstatic, but OK. Getting something is better than getting nothing, and letting the tax cuts lapse on the lower income folks would be unconscionable in my opinion.

    Yes, I’d rather have the tax cuts expire on the top earners, but if he can get extension of unemployment benefits and a couple of other sweet concessions, then I’m OK with it.

    Furthermore, if it gives the Dems in Congress the necessary kick in the pants to start working on a *better* deal, then it’s all good.

  2. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    1) I would have had the GOP leadership commit to bringing to a vote the DREAM Act, DADT etc before the end of this Congress.

    2) I would have had as a condition of this deal, several specific deficit reduction items, combining both spending cuts and tax increases once the GDP growth exceeded a certain number and unemployment decreased below a certain number. Specifically some sort of “war tax” and decreases in the DoD budget.

    3) I would have had Reid and Pelosi in the room during the compromise talks.

    4) I would have had Boehner, Reid, Pelosi and McConnell BESIDE me at the podium during the announcement with each giving a short statement after my comments saying something along the lines of “this had shit in it I don’t like, but as responsible representatives of the People, we are beginning the process of address the Debt issue for the good of America and our children and grandchildren.”

  3. mostlyilurk says:

    From a practical perspective and under the circumstances, I don’t see what else he could have done.

  4. Number Seven says:

    In addition to what Max posted, I would have separated the issue of the two tax issues. Decoupled them from each other. I would also have not let the Bush Tax cut extention for the >$250k group last longer then the extension for UI payments. I would also have tried to help the 99’ers who are left out of this ‘deal’ and no longer count as official unemployed. Maybe not 13 more months but something for god’s sake.

  5. mclever says:

    Max,

    I don’t know if #1 and #2 were possible, but I think your #3 and #4 would have both been effective political theater for making sure the deal went through.

    Hmm. Just a thought… Since he didn’t do that and he’s not a political idiot, maybe he didn’t really want the deal to go through? Maybe he’s giving the impression of being the conciliatory, bi-partisan “adult” in the room, while empowering his compadres in Congress with a stronger negotiating position?

    🙂

  6. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    All,

    Well for those who may not have gotten it: #4 is in there to let every American see that Boehner and McConnell are on board and prevent them the wiggle room, oft seen here in comments by Bart De Palmer, of going back and crying that “the deficits are Obama’s fault!” since THERE THEY ARE!

  7. shortchain says:

    What he should have done is announce, after discussions, that “Unfortunately, the Republicans insisted on continuing the top-bracket tax cuts, and, true to my campaign promise, I cannot accept this. As a result, there is no agreement. Should Congress negotiate an agreement, I am willing to consider it, so long as it does not violate my principles.”

  8. mclever says:

    @shortchain,

    Problem with that plan, is that if no deal is reached and taxes are raised on those under $250K, then that would be another campaign promise broken.

    So, he’s got to choose which is worse: breaking a promise that gives a boon to the rich, or breaking a promise that hurts the poor and middle class. Given that choice, I’d pick giving the boon to avoid the hurt.

  9. shortchain says:

    mclever,

    The thing is he can portray the failure to extend the under-250K tax cuts as the fault of the GOP, while — in case you haven’t noticed — the existing deal has his fingerprints all over it, and he’s going to be blamed for increasing the deficit — as well as not providing enough stimulus to actually do any good for the economy.

    If you are going to be blamed for something, my opinion is that you should at least make it something that you appear to believe in.

    I’ve done a fair amount of negotiation in my time and you simply have to be willing to walk away from the table if you want to have any hope of achieving a decent compromise.

  10. shiloh says:

    shortchain you simply have to be willing to walk away from the table

    My first port-of-call in the USN, Casablanca, sailors would bargain w/street merchants until they went as low as they would go and then walk away and the merchant would say, Come back, come back, we talk some more …

    Unfortunately, American politics isn’t quite so mundane 😉 as it’s more ~ you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!

  11. Monotreme says:

    I agree with mostlyilurk and it’s what I’ve been saying here for several days. He had a very weak hand, he played it as well as he could have.

    He negotiated a deal that, should it have been accepted “as is”, was “good enough”. Not great, not even really good, just good enough. About 3 on a 0-to-10 scale.

    1. Extension of 2001/2003 tax cuts for all Americans, but with a few minor accommodations from the Republicans.

    Then, he’s got a bottom, which ruled out the 0-2 part of the scale.

    Now he can bid for a 5 or a 6. That would be what I’ve described:

    2. Scuttle the negotiated extension in the 2001/2003 tax cuts. Blame the tax increase on the Republicans.

    It looks like this might be happening already.

    Now that you’ve got that, go for a 7 or 8:

    3. Negotiate something better, say a payroll tax holiday, which would have stimulatory effects.

    You’ll never get to 10, but 7 or 8 given the current climate is pretty damn good.

  12. parksie555 says:

    I think he should have held his ground on the 250K limits for the extension of the Bush cuts and pushed for lower SS benefits for high earners. I believe the polls and common sense support this position. Now he just looks weak, although I wonder if there is a deeper game between Obama and Pelosi after all the heat she took over the election results.

  13. shortchain says:

    Monotreme,

    I find Reich persuasive on the merits of this deal, and also I think this deal will make the prospects of Democrats — including Obama — in 2012 worse, rather than better.

    There’s really no other explanation for why the Republicans agreed to it so readily.

  14. filistro says:

    I think he did exactly the right thing, and everything went according to plan. Fighting and taking an intractable stand over the tax cuts would have let the GOP totally off the hook… they could have told their base (as I fully believe they intended to) “we tried hard but the socialist wouldn’t let us.” Now they are on record as being the ones who chose to add enromously to the deficit… and that meme has now seeped indelibly into every corner of the country. Obama handed them the classic Pyrrhic victory. For the GOP, this deal is a snake in a basket.

    What’s more (and if this sounds unpleasantly cold and calculating or hurts anybody’s feelings, I apologize in advance…) this was a GREAT time to pick a fight with his base. Obama needs to court the Indy vote, not the far-lefty vote, and it does him a whole world of good to have Olbermann, Maddow, Ed Schultz and the likes of Allan Grayson on air 24/7 howling about what a disappointing jerk the president is. He couldn’t BUY a better tranche of PR goodwill than the far left has handed to him this week.

    IMO… it’s easy to see that David Plouffe is back in the White House 🙂

  15. shortchain says:

    filistro,

    I think you overlook a few things:

    1. The Republican base isn’t all that sharp, but they’ll know when their taxes go up — and while they may blame the Democrats, they’re not going to be happy with the GOP either. They’ll blame everybody (but themselves, natch).

    2. The “independents” are going to vote, in 2012, on whether the economy, in 2012, is improving visibly. Since the deal is pretty much guaranteed not to make that happen (quite the reverse, as the GOP is in a position to ensure), it would be electoral suicide to diss the left — who, along with the small contingent of relatively sane independents, will remain the only hope the Democrats will have in 2012.

    3. And the President comes off looking weak. And, because he looks weak, he is weak. (About 90 percent of the power of the presidency is based on the perception of presidential strength.)

  16. filistro says:

    shortchain… you know I love you 🙂 but I think you’re wrong on all counts.

    1.)The “GOP adding to the deficit” meme will be incredibly valuable in the upcoming electoral season. It will be used in dozens of ads, and effectively neutralizes any teaper complaints from the right about “big spending” and “deficits.” Really… what can they say along those lines now? This totally muzzles them.

    2.) the economy is ALREADY improving visibly. Why do you think Bart is so chippy and cranky these days? He was passionately hoping for a double-dip and massive, double-digit unemployment leading to America’s economic collapse, and none of that is going to happen. We’re just seeing a slow, steady climb back to daylight.

    3.) A president who scolds his own base NEVER looks weak… and independent voters lap it up. That angry presser was money in the bank for Obama.

  17. dcpetterson says:

    So, the Republicans block the 9/11 Responders’ Bill.

    There is no depths to the muck they won’t sink to.

    Republicans have no shame. Unless their corporate overlords get a 4% tax cut, the people who cleaned up Ground Zero can die. They like that.

    Does anyone want to defend this insanity?

  18. drfunguy says:

    Filistro: just because you can construct a meme about this tax compromise doesn’t mean the MSM will go with it, in fact experience shows that they are much more likely to run with RNC talking points than with the facts…
    I have doubts that this will turn out well.
    It is instructive to read Eric Altermans recent column where he reminds us of the Florida 2000 debacle and the so-called liberal medias role therein. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/12/ta120910.html
    ” The Bush-Gore election illustrates three key points about today’s political and media environment:
    ■Conservatives fight harder and dirtier for what they want than progressives.
    ■The mainstream media gives conservatives a pass for acting and speaking in their own political interest while criticizing progressives for the same thing.
    ■Conservative commentators recognize few if any boundaries in their willingness to demonize progressives, with virtually no corollary of any kind among progressives.

  19. filistro says:

    @Doc… Conservatives fight harder and dirtier for what they want than progressives.

    You know what really makes conservatives a more effective fighting force? They always support their leaders.

    It’s pretty tough to win the war when your army bitches and second-guesses every military decision, fights, grumbles, threatens to mutiny and retreats over the nearest hill whenever feeling a bit neglected or disaffected.

    The only hope for Democrats is that the GOP also now has the Teapers sniping away from within and destroying unit cohesion. But it’s a pretty frail strategy for Dems, hoping they might win because the enemy’s troops are even more disorganized and undisciplined than theirs. When the battle is joined, the GOP will rally and unite.

    Just once I’d like to see Dems put somebody in power and then trust their leader enough to stand solidly behind him/her with unqualified, full-throated support through thick and thin.

    Just to see what would happen.

    Sigh….

  20. filistro says:

    Furthermore, Dem disunity is what drives a lot of negative press coverage of the left. The media doesn’t necessarily favor conservatives, it just loves a good story. And conflict is a better story than harmony.

    “Dems furious at Obama” is a much sexier headline than “Dems unite around the president.”

  21. shortchain says:

    filistro,

    As an anti-authoritarian type, let me just say that I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that the solution to the Democrats’ problems is to become more like the Republicans. In case you didn’t notice, Democrats can’t agree on a lot of things.

    Wishing things were different is an ineffective strategy.

    What the president needs, I think, is some new advisers.

  22. filistro says:

    @shortchain… What the president needs, I think, is some new advisers.

    Okay, we’re edging closer to agreement here (which is a good thing, because I really hate disagreeing with you 😉

    I think what the president needs is some new messagers. I believe he is an awesome, amazing guy, and absolutely what the country and the world needs at this perilous moment… a man of calm, steady, imperturbable brilliance. But we shouldn’t have to be be sitting around in forums like this and spending hours trying to figure out what he’s thinking. He (and his people) should be TELLING us what he’s thinking… thoroughly, incisively and often.

    Less opaqueness and mystery. More clarity.

  23. filistro says:

    Is “opaqueness” even a word? Should it be “opacity?”

    Need coffee…

  24. shortchain says:

    filistro,

    It’s a word if you want. My rule is: if it doesn’t highlight red when I type it, it’s valid. Isn’t Opacity a town in Oklahoma? If not, it should be. Opaqueness is far more descriptive. And it doesn’t highlight red, so the spell-checker thinks it’s a word. So there.

    I’d settle for Obama to stop cutting deals behind our backs.

    Oh, and I also don’t like disagreeing with you. But sometimes these things just happen.

  25. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    shortchain,

    Sorry to disillusion you, (“I’d settle for Obama to stop cutting deals behind our backs.”), but 99.9% of ALL political deals are made behind closed doors.

    “Why do you think they call them “whips”?”

  26. shortchain says:

    Max,

    It’s fine with me for people I trust to negotiate for me behind closed doors — but when they’re done, they need to convince me that the deal is in my best interest. Initially — and I’m sure a lot of people felt this way — I trusted Obama a little, based on his campaign rhetoric and history. I had some doubts, due to his vote on the execrable patriot act and other security votes, but overall, I thought he was on the side of the people.

    When Obama’s stimulus effort came up short, I said, well, that’s in the face of Republican opposition, and he must not want to spend his political capital all at once.

    But when the machinations of the administration vis a vis the health care bill came to light, where it was disclosed that they cut a deal with big pharma to take the public option off the table in return for support (which support didn’t, in the end, do anything for passage of the bill, in my opinion), I lost a lot of my trust.

    We’ve seen this pattern repeated now with this tax deal, and I no longer have any great trust in Obama.

    Sorry, but he’s lost my trust, and the trust of a lot of people. It’s not just messaging. He’s bargained away things there was no need to bargain away, and for what?

  27. filistro says:

    I get really uneasy when righties start making more sense to me than folks on my own side. Maybe I need a holiday.. because I think this article by Krauthammer makes a lot of sense.

  28. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Oh Gawd, NO!!! Not (Sour)Kraut-hammer!

    Why me, Lord? Why me? I put a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket just today!

  29. shortchain says:

    If I found myself agreeing with Krauthammer, I’d recheck my premises. And maybe my medications.

  30. filistro says:

    Oh c’mon. Did you two even READ Krauthammer’s article?

    Read it, then get back to me.

    CK is not a happy camper. He thinks (as I do) that the Republicans have been rolled, the Teapers have been betrayed, the wingers have been totally suckered, and Obama’s presser was his big “Sister Souljah” moment.

    (Unless, of course, the Dems run true to course and manage to screw up yet another huge potential victory….)

  31. mclever says:

    filistro,

    I was surprised to find that I also agree with a significant portion of what Krauthammer said. Ignoring the right-wing-speak and “woe is me” whining, the gist of his article — that Obama’s tax cut deal is a win for Democrats — I agree with. And, having read his article, I am surprised to find myself thinking maybe it is even more of a win than I thought before.

  32. filistro says:

    mclever… YES!!! Exactly!

    Now I’m holding my breath and biting my nails in fear the Dems are going to mess it all up.

  33. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Of course! Why do you think I was so distraught? Is not the overall “tone” of his article pretty much the same as that I’ve been commenting the past 3-4 days?

    Except for the last couple of paragraphs where he just loses it, anyway.

  34. shortchain says:

    filistro and all,

    I will not give the national review a click (there’s a principle involved). I read a synopsis — and was not convinced.

    Pray tell, what do you find convincing about his article? Does he provide any data? No? Has he ever shown any economics acumen? No? Has he ever been right on some major issue? By my past reading of him, the answer to that would be “not since about 1987”.

    It may be he’ll be right on this issue. I don’t regard it as a sound bet, and I’d advise you not to trust either his judgment or his honesty.

  35. Armchair Warlord says:

    I don’t really see what people are getting all worked up about regarding this deal. The President got a lot of concessions out of Republicans in exchange for a pretty small handout to the rich on taxes, including another 56(!) weeks of federal unemployment insurance.

    I get the feeling that a lot of progressives have been basically unable to deal with the fact that under the 2008-2010 balance of power in government the Republicans were going to still have a significant amount of influence on policy, especially given that the Democratic Party is not particularly unified. The way for progressives to fix this situation is to work on expanding Democratic majorities, not to constantly undermine their leaders for the high crime of having to make deals with the opposition to govern.

    I also get the impression that many progressives thought President Obama’s policies would be much more liberal than they actually turned out to be. This is because they didn’t listen to what he was actually saying during the campaign and they only have themselves to blame if they ended up disappointed – I chose Obama over McCain on substance, not style.

  36. Armchair,

    I get the feeling that a lot of progressives have been basically unable to deal with the fact that under the 2008-2010 balance of power in government the Republicans were going to still have a significant amount of influence on policy, especially given that the Democratic Party is not particularly unified.

    It’s the last part of the sentence that says it all. There’s a sense among those in the left that it’s just not fair for Republicans to have that much influence with that percentage of the two houses, when the picture is quite different when the roles are reversed. It just takes more Ds to get the same sorts of results than it does Rs.

    It feels the same way as it would if being a Republican means you can buy the same food at the store for less money than if you’re a Democrat. Very frustrating.

  37. I’ve been mulling over why I don’t like the suggestions that this is a huge stimulus bill, and I realize now what the reason is.

    In ReARRAnging the Economy, I looked at where the funds from that bill went. This one may have more dollars associated with it, but fewer of them land where they will do any good to the economy.

    It’s not about how much you spend. It’s about how much you get for your money. This is buying a used Chevy and paying Rolls-Royce prices for it.

  38. Armchair Warlord says:

    Mike,

    It feels the same way as it would if being a Republican means you can buy the same food at the store for less money than if you’re a Democrat. Very frustrating.

    Well, sure – but the real question is what are we going to do about it?

    For obvious reasons the Democratic Party is never going to be as unified as the Republican Party because of the simple competing natures of the two organizations and thus is never going to be as effective at wielding power with a slim majority in Congress. This problem must be attacked asymmetrically – the Democratic Party cannot be expected to march in lockstep like Republicans but it -can- expand its tent to pry away critical elements of the Republican base. Fiscal conservatives and defense hawks, I’m looking at you. With 70 seats in the Senate and 300 in the House the Democrats can pass as much progressive legislation as they want – and they can conceivably get to that point of complete legislative domination, which would be totally impossible for Republicans.

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