NEGOTIATING IS NOT THE SAME AS DEMANDING
President Joe Biden’s Art of the Deal approach, honed in decades in national politics, is a textbook case of negotiating skill: praise your opponent and keep talking, give a little to win but convince the other side they’ve won something of real value.
I characterize the Republican Art of the Deal approach these days— in homage to the former president-- as pure Kabuki Theater, an event high on showmanship, low on content.
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The potential impact of a US debt default on bills due would have been significant. None of this mattered to a political party that passes tax cuts without remorse but enjoys using hostage tactics to force opponents to concede.
However, The Biden deal approach carried the day, and a sufficient number of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate passed a two-year delay of the debt limit law, a political leftover from World War One. The battle resumes in 2025.
The tactical mistake by Republicans reflected three critical elements of the Trump ghost-written book Art of the Deal, which cites essentials in business and politics: you must criticize, humiliate and dominate an opponent to win. This explains Donald Trump’s affection for professional wrestling.
How could so many voters have missed this pathology before his election? It is a more widely absorbed belief than the idea pigs can fly.
Within hours of a victory statement by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, his right-wing MAGA caucus was complaining. Democrats continued to smile like the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland.
Signing the bill, Biden said, “Passing this budget agreement was critical. The stakes could not have been higher, no one got everything they wanted, but the American people got what they needed. We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse.”
New York Times reporter Peter Baker summed up the deal math, commenting on Biden’s approach.“His reticence stood in striking contrast to his negotiating partner, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has been running all over the Capitol in recent days asserting that the deal was a “historic” victory for fiscal conservatives.
What counts here is whether more Americans recognize the danger posed by the MAGA-focused Republicans, especially if the former president is a candidate in 2024 despite his legal entanglements.
In the Senate, centrist Democrats and Republicans united in approving the House bill’s two-year delay on debt-ceiling matters. Democrats opposed to cutting social benefits to ordinary Americans maintained their moral high ground without hurting Biden’s win.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a former college professor and a lawyer, was diplomatic on the entire issue, saying, “This is the weirdest legislation that anybody has ever been asked to vote on since I got here. Nobody seems to support all of it. Everyone has problems with parts of it. But the macro alternative of default is absolutely indigestible.” Counting votes and believing they had control and party discipline allowed Democrats to leave the complaining to the GOP factions.
President Biden addressed the nation from the Oval Office, saying, “I was told the days of bipartisanship were over, but I refused to believe that…American democracy can function through compromise and consensus, and that’s what I worked to do as your President…to forge a bipartisan agreement where it’s possible and where it’s needed.”
Democratic leadership Congress understood the game plan, recognizing that McCarthy needed to sell the bill to his conference, ranging from centrist to far right-wing extremists. An angry right-wing GOP caucus thinks it got rolled by the White House.
More accurately, there are sensible heads in political life, especially when rhetoric gives way to reality. Democrats who opposed the bill because they wanted more government spending for people and fairer tax rules for wealthy people were amazed, privately, at how rationally it worked out. They let McCarthy’s team claim that the deal included deep spending cuts, clawbacks of unspent federal coronavirus relief money, and stringent work requirements for recipients of federal aid. In reality, the recovered pandemic money gets reassigned, not saved.
The agreement cut $20 billion in additional enforcement funding for the Internal Revenue Service from a projected boost of $80 million, a 25% cut of “anticipated” spending. A modernized Internal Revenue Service would increase revenue, which is anathema to Republicans.
Administration officials think the final agreement’s spending cuts are nothing worse than they would have arisen in regular appropriations bills in a divided Congress. It comes down to “Political talking points” versus the “details of the bill.”. This accurately explains the two major American political parties' current state and national leadership.
Within good memory, there was a period when each American political party blended sloganeers and technocrats. Both parties mixed bombast with common sense on how to make a deal. But today, Republican politics is characterized by exaggerated performance and petty rants, that old Kabuki personified by the previous President. It’s a mindset where you “win” with Fox News diatribes, set priorities through the divisive mantras of MAGA rallies, and quote unhinged conspiracy theories as evidence.
Biden and his team will likely make a reelection case based on their ability to negotiate deals as the “adults in the room” instead of Republican extremists. This debt-ceiling agreement is a significant illustration of that position.
There are far more entertainment programs about hostage takings and violence than how liberal democracies work out issues. This is the clue that these attitudes will be layered into almost everything political for the next decade.