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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Tomasky: At This Stage Negotiating with GOP is a Fool’s Errand

Michael Tomasky’s “Barack Obama and the ‘Centrist’ Fantasy About Dealing With the GOP” merits a slow, sober read by White House strategists. It’s a familiar argument from progressive Democrats. But it’s exceptionally well-stated — and very persuasive. Tomasky laments the return of the “Obama should compromise more to win centrists/independents/swing voters” meme-that-refuses-to-die, and then explains why it’s a sure loser:

…Let’s imagine a scenario. Obama comes forward with a tax-reform proposal along Bowles-Simpson lines, one that meets the GOP halfway. He comes up with three marginal rates for individuals, the highest one around 35, maybe 38 tops; or maybe he adds a fourth “LeBron James” rate, a higher rate on dollars earned above some fantastically high figure that applies to something like .2 percent of all tax filers; but that would probably be in there as a bargaining chip. He proposes the elimination of certain “tax expenditures,” or deductions and loopholes like the home-mortgage-interest deduction and the deduction for employer-sponsored health care, which are the two big ones; or maybe he’s more modest about this and places caps on those, not eliminating them entirely; or perhaps he sticks with something like getting rid of the state and local tax deduction. Finally, he lowers the corporate rate from the current 35 percent, but proposes closing several corporate loopholes, like energy-tax preferences for the oil and gas industry.
WWMD? That is, what would McConnell do–and Boehner, and Cantor, and the rest? Would they scratch their chins and say, “Gee, this is great. We’re delighted that the president has put something serious on the table, and we will work hard with him to find common ground”? Actually, they might say that, at first, just to pull the wool over people’s eyes. But in short order, the line from them and their confederates in positions of lighter responsibility would be: “This is a massive tax increase! Eliminating these deductions on middle-class people will raise their taxes, so he’s breaking his promise, see, we told you! The LeBron tax is just more ‘Democrat’ class warfare, more punishing the job creators.” “The corporate plan,” they’ll say, “sounds good on paper, but again, he’s attacking the job creators by eliminating these important deductions, and many corporations, especially small businesses”–you know they’ll throw that one in!–“are going to end up paying more.”

Hard to argue with that scenario. As for the ‘why’ of it, Tomasky adds:

If Obama meets Republicans halfway, and then they block a deal, the center will shift further to the right. Republicans know this. That’s why obstructionism suits them just fine.
And that’s just elected officials. At Heritage and Cato, they’ll comb through the fine print and find an Achilles’ heel, something that can be distorted to sound just hideous, which will of course be in there, because tax policy is unbelievably complex. And then, once Mr. Oxycontin and the Fox people start hooping and hollering about that, it won’t be long before the whole thing can be dismissed as something Marx would be proud of.
No they wouldn’t, you say? Why? Because their allegations wouldn’t be true? Oh, yes, that has regularly stopped them in the past. Or because there would be too much pressure on them to behave responsibly this time? Pressure from whom? The New York Times and Washington Post editorial pages? Please. Direct me to one instance–and no, the Post and the Iraq War doesn’t count, because that was the Post endorsing something Republicans were for anyway–when Eric Cantor has read a Times editorial and said, “Golly, these fellows make some very fair points, I must heed them.” The only pressure they pay attention to is from Limbaugh, Fox, and the base. And that pressure will consist entirely of one message: resist, at all costs, or perish.

Looking toward the future, Tomasky sees no reason to hope that the GOP will negotiate in good faith. “… There’s every reason to think it will be even worse in a second Obama term, because the base will be so enraged that the guy “stole” another election that the demand will be that the Republicans be even more obstructionist…”
The Republican strategy is ultimately very simple, says Tomasky: Resist all proposed compromises from the President and keep pushing the “center of gravity” to the right. But there is but one remedy, Tomasky sees: “What can change it? Not much. Losing lots of elections. If they’re ever down to 38 senators and 153 House members like the good old days, they’ll have to deal. Until then, Obama wouldn’t be a leader if he tried to negotiate with them in good faith. He’d be a fool.”
A harsh call. But there is absolutely nothing in the history of the President’s dealings with the Republicans to suggest it’s overstated.

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