Kindle: 380 Pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
For John, BLUF: The President's tactical maneuvering WRT Capitol Hill left something to be desired—and I blame Rahm Emanuel.
This book looks at negotiations over the Federal Debt Limit♠ after the 2010 elections, where the Republicans gained a majority in the House of Representatives. The book runs through 2011, up to the point where a deal is cut, giving us Sequestration as the gun at our head to force us to fix our debt and deficit problems before the next need for a Federal Debt extension. What we are seeing today in negotiations to avoid going over the “Fiscal Cliff” is déjà vu all over again.
I found this book difficult to read. After ten to fifteen pages the reader gets frustrated by the lack of progress, a lack of progress that was manifested in the previous ten to fifteen pages, with no hope that it will be better in the next ten to fifteen pages.
To be fair, the players, especially President Obama and Speaker John Boehner, are struggling to find a solution. Others are actively looking to find a way out, but with little success. These would include Senate President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The author sums it up early on:
They were facing contradictory policy requirements: spend more quickly, but address the long-term deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars per year.The story is muddled by the fact that some, like WRKO’s Jeff Kuhner, think the President is a Radical Socialist, and he does sometimes sound that way. However, this book suggests he is, his time in Chicago and round people like William Ayers notwithstanding, a bit of a Blue Dog Democrat. This is not to say the President wasn’t and isn’t a Keynesian, but that he understands that there are limits. This view of the President may cause my wife to comment on this blog for the first time ever.
Another thing happening in Washington was that even some Democrats were concerned about the economy. Early in the Administration Democratic Senator Kent Conrad expressed concern.
Conrad, the head of the Senate Budget Committee, believed the country was heading off a fiscal cliff. He could prove it, and he was going to fix it.So, the problem with the Debt Ceiling was not solely a Republican Party issue:
Raising the debt ceiling was normally a routine matter, but Conrad was determined to change that. “Unless we get a commission we’re just not” raising it, he said flatly.There was also the issue of the President and the Republicans on Capital Hill. Early on there was the Rush Limbaugh “I hope the President Fails”.♥ Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell put it this way:
In an October 2010 interview with National Journal, McConnell had said that for Republicans, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The statement was widely reported in the press and was cited by Democrats as evidence that Republicans in Congress prized defeating Obama above the good of the country. But the coverage largely ignored the rest of what McConnell had said. Asked if his strategy involved constant confrontation, McConnell said, “If President Obama does a Clintonian backflip, if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.” “I don’t want the president to fail,” he said later in that interview. “I want him to change.”The thing that comes through the book is that, in fact, the Administration wasn’t into compromising here and there in order to build consensus. It was an approach created by then White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel,♦ "the man in charge of that process":
President Obama’s fellow Chicagoan left the House leadership to help guide the relatively inexperienced president through the intricacies of Washington politics, and his aggressive approach to dealing with congressional Republicans in the early years of Obama’s first term was: “We have the votes."While that worked for the first two years of the Administration, it wouldn’t work for the next two years, following the 2010 election, when Tea Party Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives by voters who wanted real change and not just the continuous flow of Pork to their towns and cities.
As Author Woodward points out, “from the Obama administration there was virtually no outreach or contact.” This meant that there were no paths laid down for future compromise.
Thus, the “Rahm Emanuel approach to congressional relations”:
We have the votes. [Screw] ’em.With the new Congress in 2011 the Democrats lacked the votes in the Lower House and in the Senate the ability to break a filibuster was reduced. Further, the President’s promise, following the 2010 election, of regular meetings, never happened. The needed infusion of political operatives from the White House into Congress, doing the button holing needed to build relationships and sell ideas, never happened. It was as though the While House believed in the strong man theory. Thus, in the previous crisis the President negotiated with House Speaker Boehner, but did not include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. One assumes that the President either believed, (a) that Ms Pelosi would support the President, no questions asked, or that (b) Speaker Boehner would make it happen in the House, since he was in charge. It doesn’t work that way.
Adding to the problem appears to be the belief on the part of the President that he is in charge, as opposed to one of three centers of power. This would be what writer Garry Wills decries as "bomb power",♣ the idea that the President is superior to the other branches of Government, and not beholding to or accountable to the other branches.
Negotiations are hard. They are harder when one side thinks it has the power and the authority to do what it thinks it right.
Regards — Cliff
♠ As opposed to the Deficit. The Debt is the totality of what the Federal Government owes to creditors. The Deficit is the amount the Federal Government overspends in a given fiscal year—Expenditures minus Revenues (Taxes) collected.
♥ Rush’s own words on this issue can be found her. In essense, Mr Limbaugh didn’t like the policies President Elect Obama had been proposing and Mr Limbaugh thought they were bad for the nation.
♦ Sometimes referred to as "Dead Fish" after he mailed a dead fish to a pollster who was late with the data.
♣ Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, which suggests the acqusition of nuclear weapons "dramatically increas[ed] the power of the modern presidency and redefin[ed] the government as a national security state".