President Obama had to endure some deeply unpleasant experiences with Congress over the last couple of years, but the result of the incidents taught him valuable lessons. It's clear, especially after last year's debt-ceiling crisis, that the president now knows exactly how to negotiate with reckless, radicalized Republicans.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal on Thursday to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, $50 billion in immediate stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, met strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced the goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.
For years, Obama hoped to strike deals by being conciliatory, starting with opening offers designed to satisfy Republican demands. These efforts repeatedly failed miserably, and only emboldened GOP leaders to demand agreements tilted heavily in their favor.
Fine, the president is now saying. Let's start with an ambitious plan designed to make Democrats happy, and see how that works out. The days of preemptive concessions and negotiating from a defensive crouch are over.
Republicans seemed stunned late yesterday while condemning Obama's offer, as if the president shouldn't have the audacity to present a plan he knows they won't like. But I'd remind GOP lawmakers that everything in Obama's proposal is consistent with his previous budget plans and the policies he presented to the public during the recent national campaign (which he won fairly easily).
Indeed, Obama is acting like a confident, re-elected president who expects congressional Republicans to start moving in his direction, not the other way around. GOP leaders aren't accustomed to this dynamic, but it's probably time they adapt to their new surroundings.
For the left, if there must be a focus on debt reduction, the White House proposal is the right way to do it. The plan roughly meets the broad outline House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he wants, but does so in the most progressive way possible. Indeed, Obama's offer -- which was leaked by Republicans, not formally presented to the public by the administration -- even includes additional economic stimulus in the form of infrastructure spending, extended jobless aid, and an extension of the payroll tax break.
And did I mention it calls for the elimination of the debt-ceiling law altogether? It does that, too.
Republicans, not surprisingly, absolutely hate everything about the president's proposal, and that was the expected reaction. But the point of an offer like this is to set the parameters of the debate -- Obama will no longer make GOP satisfaction his primary goal -- and press Republicans to put on their big-boy pants for a change.
Throughout the recent negotiations, Republicans have said they want entitlement cuts, but they won't say which ones. Republicans have said they'll accept new revenue, but they won't say how or where the revenue would come from. Republicans have said they'll make concessions on deductions, but they won't say which ones. Republicans have said they expect deep spending cuts, but they've offered no specifics.
As of this morning, there's one plan on the table, and it's Obama's. Boehner & Co. don't like it? Fine. Where's their competing plan?
Republicans desperately want the president to negotiate with himself -- keep presenting increasingly conservative ideas until GOP leaders say they're satisfied. Obama clearly isn't willing to play that game anymore.