Obama’s Strategy: First Surrender, Then Beg

US President Barack Obama. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy. Click for attribution information. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy.

Sure, I’m upset about the terms of the deal to raise the debt ceiling:  The kick-the-can-down-the-road, hot potato hand-off to a 12-member committee; the prospect of draconian, destructive, across-the-board budget cuts that will worsen unemployment and stymie growth; the head-shakingly inexplicable omission of any requisite revenue component.  I’m upset about it all.

Mostly, though, I’m upset about Barack Obama.

For more than a year, I’ve been bemoaning our President’s passive tendencies–his unwillingness to go to the mat on urgent matters of domestic policy (read, for instance, this post, or this one, or this one), but I’ve nevertheless harbored a wishful optimism that as he grew into the job, he’d become more muscular, more assertive, more willing to take and  deliver political punches in pursuit of a bold domestic agenda.

So much for that.

Indeed, if a recent remark by President Obama’s Press Secretary is any indication, the chaos and capitulation that have defined the President’s deal-making approach thus far–the losing strategy of laying all his cards on the table before the other side has even anted up–were but a sorry prelude to more of the same.

Answering a series of questions about the debt deal’s 12-member “super committee,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney on Monday volunteered this revealing tidbit:

If it fails either to produce something or if Congress fails to act on it, you can be sure that the President will honor his promise to veto any legislation that would extend the Bush high-income tax cuts beyond 2012, which would, of course, create nearly $1 trillion in revenue raisers when that happens. [Full text, here.]

Did you get that?

After his budget compromise at the end of 2010 (the one in which he  surrendered on his prior commitment not to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans), President Obama assured restive Democrats that the retreat was only temporary–that the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy was for two years only–and he vowed to veto any legislation that extended those tax cuts beyond 2012. 

That commitment is now gone.  By announcing that the President will honor his veto promise “if” the so-called super-committee fails to produce something or Congress fails to act on it, Carney has actually signaled the obverse to the Republicans–that the President’s promise to veto any extension of the Bush  high-income tax cuts is, in fact, negotiable.  In yet another instance of a negotiating strategy that can only be described as “First Surrender, Then Beg,” the President–before even a single member of the 12-person committee has been selected–has effectively thrown in the towel on yet another extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.


With the anti-government Tea Party setting the agenda for a Republican Party already hostile to the middle class, today’s political battles are not merely philosophical, they’re existential.   Yet at a time when the Democrats need a Churchill, they seem, instead, to have a Chamberlain.

~~Kenn Shapiro

2 Comments on Obama’s Strategy: First Surrender, Then Beg

  1. The fight over the debt ceiling and last year’s standoff over the Bush Tax Cuts will actually hurt the GOP in the long run. Democrats have time to learn from their mistakes in these two battles and formulate a winning strategy for next year’s battle over the Bush Tax Cuts, of which the House certainly will pass an extension of. Democrats can already start putting together a high asking price for this, such as closing every outrageous loophole they can find, added protections for Medicare/SS/Medicaid cuts, expedited withdrawals of troops from the wars, and raising the debt ceiling several months past the tax cut extension. They would force the GOP to agree to all of these things to get their way on the Bush Tax Cuts again. Obama has been weak so far, but I think he is smart enough to learn from his mistakes. Mitch McConnell is already saying there will be little chance of anyone from the GOP on this Super Committe that will be in favor of any tax increases on anyone. In other words, gridlock will ensue because of this committee. McConnell wrongfully thinks this debt ceiling debate will set a template for future debt ceiling battles because Dems will require it to be raised significantly for any extension of the Bush Tax Cuts.

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  1. Daily Kos: Obama should veto any ‘Gang of 12′ plan that doesn’t effectively repeal Bush high-income tax cuts | Dallas Estate Attorney .com

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