I wanted to make a remark or two about Bob Woodward’s reporting of the failure of President Obama to reach an agreement with House Speaker John Boehner on spending and taxation last summer:
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.”
Hat tip: James Joyner
In negotiations when one party re-opens a subject that the other party believes already to have been settled and then, when called on it, reacts angrily, it is reasonable to conclude that the party that re-opened the previously settled subject was negotiating in bad faith, i.e. had no intention of arriving at an equitable settlement. At that point withdrawal from negotiations is the only viable alternative.
Something else I’ve mentioned here before: there is an asking price, a selling price, and an insult price, i.e. a price so out of the ballpark that it’s taken as a deliberate affront to the other party. It’s also possible that’s how Speaker Boehner interpreted the president’s escalating offer.
Both of these things are traps that experienced negotiators should know how to avoid. I think this adds weight to an argument I’ve made here before: I don’t think that Barack Obama’s experience in Illinois prepared him for a situation in which he would need to negotiate. Indeed, his election to the U. S. Senate here was a mark of just how supine the Illinois Republican Party has been.