Should Obama negotiate the budget directly with the GOP?

Here’s a new plan which also probably won’t go anywhere, but you have at least give Congress credit for trying to find some way to avoid bogging down entirely. With the budget negotiations apparently heading for a cliff yet again, the GOP leadership is now pushing to simply cut congressional Democrats out of the loop and have the White House negotiate directly with them on the next spending bill. (The Hill)

With a little more than a week to prevent a government shutdown, the GOP thinks the talks should be between them and Obama since they now have control of the House and Senate.

Losing the Senate in last year’s midterm elections should force Obama to deal with them, they say.

Democrats, however, are determined to keep a seat at the table — in part because they think they’ll drive a tougher bargain than Obama, whose past efforts to make deals with Republicans unnerves Capitol Hill liberals.

In this case, Obama seems likely to go along with congressional Democrats — especially after bruising fights over trade policy and the Iran nuclear deal.

Even at a brief glance there are problems with this idea. I understand the theoretical desire to have the President in on the talks because passing something that he’s only going to veto is a waste of everyone’s time except in terms of showmanship and political theater. (Which, unfortunately, some of our members value far more than actually producing any legislation these days.) But that ignores some pesky aspects of the Constitution, such as the principle that the legislative branch is the one that does the, you know… legislating. And then the Executive branch is supposed to just give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. And if Boehner and McConnell were actually to sit down only with the President there’s absolutely no assurance that Pelosi and Reid would sign off on whatever Obama agreed to. He has no actual power at this stage of the process.

I’m also not terribly confident that anyone on the D side of the aisle is all that interested in a deal in the first place. There are several people involved in this process who literally have no compelling reason to act or find a path to compromise. Barack Obama is on his way out the door, will never face another election and has literally nothing to lose. Reid won’t be running for reelection so he’s not going to be terribly worried about his legacy in terms of finishing a budget either. Nancy Pelosi is theoretically still in business full time but she’s no spring chicken, and we’ve heard more than a few rumors that she’ll be preparing for her exit if she can’t get the gavel back in the general election.

Going beyond that, though, there’s the question of motivation. I’m sure Obama would like to see a budget deal go through if he got most of what he wanted and could stick his finger in the eye of the GOP on a few things, but congressional Democrats are another matter. They have a vested collective interest in the next elections and they have every reason in the world to remain quite sanguine about another government shutdown if they don’t get everything they want. Why would they shy away from the fight? If recent history has shown us anything it’s that the public is going to blame the Republicans if the government shuts down no matter who holds the majority, who is attaching what riders to bills or anything else. The GOP’s popularity will sink, the Democrats will fundraise off of it and it will bolster their chances next November. In fact, their best scenario is probably to let the government partially shut down, negotiate a six or nine month deal and then do the whole thing again next summer in the final days of the race.

In the end, Reid and Pelosi have zero incentive to agree to any completed spending deal if it doesn’t include funding for Planned Parenthood or if it seeks to trim entitlement programs to pay for the rest of the increases they want. They can just stand pat on demanding a raise in the debt ceiling at this point and refuse to blink. They win by losing in this case, which is a pretty enviable position to occupy. So why allow Barack Obama to go negotiate for them? That would only lead to an intra-party fight later when they would much rather see the Republicans tear themselves apart over who caused the shutdown on our side to begin with. And trust me… even though the minority is at fault logically, we’ll wind up with the leadership blaming the conservative wing and vice versa while the Democrats laugh all the way to the voting booth.

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