Election 2014  
comments_image Comments

7 Theories Why Obama Keeps Getting Burned (Or Doesn't!) Negotiating with Republicans

Obama's presidency still tends to divide progressives.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/spirit of america


Barack Obama has negotiated deals with the Republicans four times since they won the House in the 2010 midterms. In late 2010, he extended the Bush tax cuts in exchange for extended unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states; in early 2011 they haggled over a threatened government shut-down; that summer we had the first round of debt ceiling shenanigans and this month over the phony “fiscal cliff” that came out of those earlier negotitations. We'll have another round – or rounds -- in the next few months as the budget resolution expires, the debt limit comes up again and the automatic budget cuts known as a sequester looms.

For the most part, progressives have not been terribly happy with the results of these negotiations. Few doubt the president's political acumen, but the conventional wisdom has become that while he can win elections, he tends to get rolled by the GOP. And there are a number of theories for why that is -- and there are also people who argue that it's simply not true.

We rounded up some of the possibilities progressive analysts have offered to explain this dynamic.

1. Obama Hasn't Been Rolled Because He's Really a Closet Republican

According to this line of thinking, Obama has only been thwarted in the sense that he hasn't been able to realize his deeply held ambition of gutting the social safety net. FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher is one of the proponents of this theory, pleading last December for progressives to "please stop pretending Obama is 'capitulating' on Social Security.”

Everywhere you look, the media narrative is that President Obama is “capitulating” to Republicans by agreeing to cuts in Social Security benefits.

And I have to ask, where is this collective political amnesia coming from?

Obama has made a deliberate and concerted effort to cut Social Security benefits since the time he took office.

Hamsher offers into evidence a paper laying out possible cuts to “entitlements” that was co-authored by former OMB director Peter Orszag when he was at the Brookings Institution, Obama's creation of the Simpson-Bowles commission, and statements like this one, from a report in the Washington Post:

Obama said that he has made clear to his advisers that some of the difficult choices–particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare – should be made on his watch. “We’ve kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road,” he said.

Hamsher concludes:

But it’s clear that he did not arrive at the decision to “reform” Social Security and cut benefits because he is a poor negotiator, or because of Republican arm twisting. It defies all logic and reason to look at his actions over the years and think that the President is now “capitulating” on Social Security.

2. Say What You Like About the Tenets of National Socialism, Dude, At Least It's an Ethos

Another theory is that the White House recognizes that House Republicans aren't bound by ordinary usual political constraints. Many lawmakers in the Republican party's tea party wing come from safe districts and worry more about a primary from their right than what the polls say Americans want to see happen.

Jonathan Chait likens it to the nihilists in the Coen brothers' classic film, The Big Lebowski. After the latest deal was struck, Chait wrote: “The big reveal from the negotiations is that, as the clock ticked down, the administration feared the consequences of a stalemate and feared the power of nihilistic House Republicans.”

See more stories tagged with: