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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Silver: Obama’s Negotiations ‘Pretty Bad,’ Not ‘Terrible’

While many progressives are denouncing the deficit deal as a sell-out, Five Thirty Eight blogster Nate Silver crunches some numbers – specifically the House vote affirming the deal – and concludes of the President’s negotiation strategy,

…I think the proper characterization of the deal that President Obama struck with Republicans is “pretty bad” rather than “terrible.” (That’s from a Democratic point of view. For Republicans, I’d say the deal should be thought of as “quite good” rather than “awesome.”)
…In the end, exactly half of the Democratic caucus members voted for the debt ceiling bill, which makes it hard to classify the deal as “terrible” from their point of view.
But almost three-quarters of Republicans voted in the affirmative. And even the Tea Party came around in the end. By 32-to-28, members of the Tea Party Caucus voted for the bill, despite earlier claims — which now look like a bluff — that they wouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances.
These results seem to suggest that Mr. Obama left something on the table. That is, Mr. Obama could have shifted the deal tangibly toward the left and still gotten a bill through without too much of a problem. For instance, even if all members of the Tea Party Caucus had voted against the bill, it would still have passed 237-to-193, and that’s with 95 Democrats voting against it.

With benefit of hindsight, Silver makes a pretty tight case, in light of the House vote, that Obama caved too much. Silver then goes on to speculate about the concessions the President could have wrangled since he “had a few Republican votes he could afford to lose,” and a few Democratic votes he could have gained.
Silver acknowledges that “Voting during roll calls can be tactical, and the results may have been skewed by the heartwarming and unexpected return of Representative Gabrielle Giffords to the House chamber.”
In his New York Times post “A Victory That May Be Brief,” Julian Zelizer, a Princeton-based presidential historian, cautions against the downside of quickie analysis in evaluating such deals:

Political victories in Congress are often short-lived. Opponents are frequently able to turn victories into sources of weakness. Tea Party Republicans could easily learn that the bold promises that help parties to achieve legislative victories can also come back to haunt them when voters don’t see the rewards they were expecting. When promises for transformation don’t come true, voters can quickly turn against their officials, just as happened to President Obama.

The chess game is not over until the Senate, which is expected to approve the package, has its say at about noon today. The tally will be interesting. But Silver’s analysis seems reasonable in the short run.
From a purely political, amoral, standpoint, however, the question is how the deal will look in November ’12, if it is still on voter’s radar screens at all. There is also a distinction to be made between the perceptions of the deal and its economic effects when the election rolls around. And if the economy tanks further or strongly rebounds, the deal probably won’t change many votes.

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