This debt debate comes down to negotiables and non-negotiables for each side. Negotiables are things they are willing to put in play to achieve their goals. Non-negotiables are things they need to keep of the table at all costs. Both sides, not surprisingly have non-negotiables that involve keeping their chances alive for next year’s elections. Let’s start with those.

For their part, House Republicans refuse to raise taxes. That’s their non-negotiable and has been all along. Many of these folks were elected in a Tea Party wave that was all about limited government. Many of them made an explicit pledge not to vote for a tax increase. They simply can not raise taxes and expect to survive. Tax increases are off the table.

Meanwhile, President Obama has refused any short term deal which would force him to face this issue again next year. He knows he can’t negotiate with his re-election on the line, so he wants this off the table for 2012. Last week, Jake Tapper did a fine job of pointing out how transparently political this demand was. But the President repeated this demand again yesterday. Election year debt negotiations are off the table.

So those are the non-negotiables on each side. Here’s the difference. Speaker Boehner isn’t asking for a short term deal. In fact, he was asked this question yesterday and explicitly said he was not interested in one. In other words, he is not pushing the President on his non-negotiable.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the President demanded $400 billion in additional revenues which Speaker Boehner says would come from tax increases. The President does not deny that he asked for the additional revenue at the last moment. When asked a sharp question about moving the goalposts by Norah O’Donnell the President’s reply was halting:

What this came down to was…there doesn’t seem to be a capacity for them to say yes.

Well, when you’re asking people to negotiate their non-negotiables after you’ve already agreed to something else, they do tend to balk. And in case you’re wondering, there is no doubt the President knows just how non-negotiable this is for GOP House members. In fact, he talked about the tax pledge many of them had signed yesterday, saying this left them “boxed in.” Boxed in is just another way to say they made tax increases a non-negotiable.

And yet the President seems to think House GOP members should violate a pledge they made to their constituents, one which a) they believe in as a matter of principle and which b) helped get them elected. He just expects them to “say yes” anyway.

Here’s the most frustrating part. Obama has a pledge of his own in this debate, something he promised more than two years ago. Obama pledged to reform Social Security and Medicare from the earliest days of his administration:

President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare “bargain” with the American people, saying that the nation’s long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.

So while Paul Krugman and others on the far left may not like it, Obama will certainly claim the reforms that the GOP are demanding from him are a promise kept, not one he has broken. Entitlement reform isn’t a concession for him, it was a goal!

That’s where things stand. President Obama is demanding the GOP violate their non-negotiable pledge on taxes so that he can fulfill his pledge to reform entitlements. The President repeatedly called this a “fair deal” yesterday. Well, it certainly is fair to him.

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