President Obama’s initial offer in the Fiscal cliff negotiations is sure to please progressives, and enrage the right. One of the main criticisms for the left about Obama is his poor negotiation skills. In the stimulus and health care debates, he decided to make his initial offers as close to what he perceived the GOP was willing to accept. Like good negotiators, the GOP took that and threw back their most hard line offer in response. Michael Tomasky has noted Obama’s change of tactic this go around:
The financial plan that Tim Geithner advanced yesterday caught everyone by surprise in its suck-on-this boldness, so unusual for Obama in such situations. Up to $1.6 trillion in revenue; new stimulus spending; new mortgage help; and elimination of Congress’ role in the debt limit!…
…The statement is about putting jobs and growth ahead of deficit reduction; it’s about saying that we believe these are the right ways to stimulate the economy; and it’s about saying that we’re not going to open these negotiations on Republican turf.
That is: If the White House had instead yesterday offered a modest set of specific entitlement cuts and domestic spending cuts, that would have started the negotiations on GOP turf, since those are the two things the GOP wants. This of course is exactly what Obama used to do: As in last year’s debt negotiations, he started by offering the Republicans half a loaf, and the compromise ended up at 75 or 80 percent of the GOP loaf, and Obama looked weak and his voters were terribly dispirited. it took months for him and them to recover.
Tomasky, being a realist, understands this initial offer is not going to be law. Instead, its an initial offering from a President who, having lost as checkers, has upgraded to chess.
I don’t think, and I don’t think Obama thinks, that most of what Geithner rolled out yesterday is going to become law. But that isn’t the point. The point is to lay down markers, draw some lines in the sand, and give his voters something to rally around. There’s a risk that when he has to give up on some of these things, he’ll look weak, but I think that’s a pretty minimal problem. More likely, the Republicans will look obstructionist and small to most people, because majorities tend to support Obama’s positions on most of these things.
So this was a strong play, however it all turns out. It tells the GOP they’re dealing with a different guy now. High time.