From the cliff to the ceiling

1 Jan

chess02-sizedAnyone who has worked for a while knows what negotiations are.

You negotiate for a raise, you negotiate with someone whose desk is close to you over noise, messiness, borrowing lunch money.

Step up a flight and you negotiate job benefits, worker rights and 5-year contacts.

So you know negotiations are compromise.

It’s like a game of chess.

You put your offer on the table, the other side makes a counter offer.

Back and forth until one side concedes and on to the other item.

Concede a bit on something you consider not important and stand firm on what is important.

The system works fairly well as long as both sides are people of good will just trying to do the best they can for their side.

It all breaks down when there are negotiations between Congress and the White House, like the so-called fiscal cliff.

In the House, you have the Republican Party that has publicly said it will not give the President anything that might make him look good.

Add in the Tea Party members who came to Washington with nothing but cut-and-slash on their minds and won’t budge an inch.

Move down the street to the White House and you have a president that whenever he says that there’s an issue on which he absolutely, positively won’t give ground, you can count on him giving way — and soon.

The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn’t seem to be one that this particular president can understand.

The lesson here is the Republicans go into a negotiation with Obama knowing he can be rolled.

Obama did one thing right by sending vice-president Joe Biden to the table for the cliff talks.

Biden can stand toe-to-toe with the best of them.

Even so, the agreement may not hold as House members are talking of making changes in the proposal and sending it back to the Senate for another vote.

The trouble here is senators have left town and are in no mood to have the House fiddle with their bill.

At this point let’s assume (as foolish as that is) the fiscal cliff stuff passes and it’s all good.

Next up is the looming fight over raising the federal debt ceiling and that’s going to be a bigger battle than the fiscal cliff.

Republicans see that as a golden opportunity to make up for what they had to give away in the fiscal talks and get their creed back.

When these negotiations begin, the president can redeem himself by holding firm — but because the Republicans don’t think he will, they will play tough.

This will almost surely force him to actually hit the ceiling with all the costs that entails.

You can bet the Republicans will take it to the wall believing he’ll cave.

So Obama has set himself and the nation up for a much uglier confrontation than we would have had if he had set a negotiating position and held to it.

As mom used to say – you make your bed and you lie in it.

UPDATE: The legislation was passed by the House late on Tuesday. The remarks from the GOP were they would save the fight for the deficit talks coming up.

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