There’s a theme emerging on the backing off from the “fiscal cliff”, exemplified by E. J Dionne’s column in the Washington Post. According to this interpretation, the agreement that was forged at long last, at the very last minute was just the first step in a lengthy process:
But we should at least consider the possibility that this week’s Midnight Madness was actually a first step down a better road. This will be true if Obama hangs as tough as he now says he will; if he insists on more revenue in the next round of discussions; and if he immediately begins mobilizing business leaders to force Republicans off a strategy that would use threats to block a debt-ceiling increase to extract spending cuts. Real patriots do not risk wrecking the economy to win a political fight.
The question that needs to be asked about this interpretation is how do you envision that taking place?
There are several kinds of negotiations. One kind of negotiation could be characterized as “the confidence-building exercise”. In this sort of negotiation the accomplishment may be small but the parties are in closer agreement at the end of the negotiation than they were at the beginning. They like and trust each other more. Both feel that they gained just by coming to the table.
The other sort of negotiation could be characterized as “poisoning the well”. One side, the other, or neither might have gotten what they wanted from the negotiation but at the conclusion further negotiation is more difficult than it was at the beginning if not impossible altogether. All too often divorces are this sort of negotiation.
The problem that I had with the debate over healthcare reform and now with the late debate over fiscal reform is that any practical sense they made was as the first step of many but the process by which they have been conducted made that process less likely, even impossible.
Does the recent exchange of insults by Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner suggest that future negotiations will become easier or more difficult? Do Democrats really believe that, if Boehner is ousted from the speakership, that whoever replaces him will be more accommodating?
For the next two years at the very least the contours of federal government will be that Obama will be president, Democrats will control the Senate, and Republicans will control the House. Deal with it.
If you’re willing to write off the next two years in the hope that the next two will be more favorable to your side, whichever side that may be, you’re engaging in exactly what Dionne decries: risking wrecking the economy to win a political fight.