Presidential Schmoozing Really Isn’t the Issue Here, Folks


Over at Politico, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen spend a few hundred words telling us that President Obama blew it by first insisting on a tax increase in the fiscal cliff deal and then provoking Republicans even further by taking to the hustings to talk up a compromise sequester deal that included yet more tax hikes. But when you get to the tail end of the column, they finally tell us the real impediment to some kind of grand bargain that raises taxes and cuts entitlements:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he can envision such a scenario if Democrats put specific entitlement cuts on the table. But, top House GOP officials tell us that is nuts. The prevailing view among House Republicans is that they have finally won the cuts they spent years fighting for and see little reason to tick off senior voters by cutting entitlements while also ticking off the base with new taxes. In truth, many Republicans aren’t very motivated themselves to start messing with entitlements if they don’t have to.

Right. Maybe Obama has been too aloof. Maybe Republicans in the House really are such delicate flowers that a couple of months of presidential speeches has them livid with rage. Anything is possible. But the real issue is far more concrete: Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on the rich and they don’t want to cut entitlements on their core base of pissed-off old people. The fact that they claim they want to cut entitlements is mostly just smoke. In reality, they’re no more eager to do it than Democrats.

I see no harm in Obama’s charm offensive. He’s tried it before and it hasn’t worked. He’s tried negotiating behind the scenes and it hasn’t worked. But I guess you have to keep trying something, so why not a bit of schmoozing?

Still, I don’t think he’s ever had any success negotiating with Republicans, no matter what approach he’s taken. In his early days they opposed him nearly unanimously on everything, with just one or two defections. In the middle of his first term they opposed every possible grand bargain, agreeing only to a package of 100% spending cuts during the debt ceiling crisis. At the end of his first term, they accepted a small tax increase only because they literally had no choice: taxes would have gone up even more if they hadn’t agreed. And now, at the start of his second term, they’re once again refusing to make any kind of deal.

It’s time to face facts: this is all due to political pressures and ideological preferences, not presidential sociability. That’s just the way it is.

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