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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

 
The worst negotiation failure of the night

by David Atkins

So the deal is done: Cantor's gambit to take us over the cliff and/or pressure the Senate into a harder bargain, if it was ever anything more than kabuki posturing, failed. Boehner broke the Hastert rule and brought the Senate bill to the floor, allowing it to pass with overwhelming Democratic support plus a GOP minority.

Taken on its own and without context, the deal isn't that bad. Significant taxes were raised on the wealthy, unemployment benefit extensions were passed, the "milk cliff" was averted, and sundry other positive things were done. There's some ugly stuff in there, too, of course: not enough increase in the capital gains rate, an indexing of the estate tax to inflation, and a continuation of various corporate tax giveaways among the nastiness. But the biggest problem with the final deal is that we're now set up for the debt ceiling fight with no leverage whatsoever against the Republican ideological cult if the President doesn't either take the Constitutional option or mint the $1 trillion platinum coin. As I argued before, little absent going over the cliff completely would have denied the Republicans that leverage, anyway. Still, the thought of this Republican Congress negotiating with Grand Bargain-desperate Obama over the debt ceiling is a terrifying prospect. It's going to take massive progressive mobilization over the next two months to block the worst from happening.

But perhaps the biggest negotiation failure of the day wasn't over the fiscal cliff at all, but over Hurricane Sandy relief. To the shock of decent people the world over, Republicans adjourned the House without even taking up a vote on relief funding for the states hardest hit by the hurricane. The outrage from the well of the House was palpable.





Adjourning without even bothering to take a vote on this was a move of epic callousness, though it's not entirely surprising: the relief would go to blue states, and Republicans don't give a damn about any part of the country that isn't backward blood red.

It does raise the question of why Nancy Pelosi allowed it to happen,though. Once House Democrats knew that they would be bailing Republicans out of going over the fiscal cliff and setting themselves up for nightmarish headaches, achieving hurricane relief should have been a contingent part of the deal. There should never have been a vote on the Senate fiscal deal without a prior vote on hurricane relief.

But then again, even thinking in these terms requires one to imagine the Republicans as honest negotiators. Let's say Pelosi had made such a demand (there's no way to know at this point whether she did or did not), and Boehner refused it. What then? Would House Dems have refused to vote yes on the Senate deal as well? How would that have been explained to the public?

Once again, we're confronted with a situation in which Democrats aren't willing to simply let the country go to hell in a handbasket, while Republicans are. That gives Republicans the advantage in any negotiation going forward until and unless Democrats make the necessary rules changes to prevent Republicans from operating a tyranny of the minority.


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