John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


How About a Mini-Bargain Strategy?

Posted on March 13, 2013
Barack Obama

The Grand Bargain seems to be back in the news.

The President is addressing House Republicans today, after he kibitzed with Senate Democrats yesterday.   He dined with some select Senate Republicans and lunched with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  He finishes his week tomorrow fending off angry questions from House Democrats.

If it seems weird that the President is actually doing his job in reaching out to Congress, that’s because it is weird.  Mr. Obama, despite once being a member of the Upper Body, hasn’t spent much time interacting with the legislative branch.

There is plenty of reason for skepticism about the President’s motives.  Most of that skepticism is coming from the President’s own people, which is probably not a good sign.

Ron Fournier had a memorable quote in his story yesterday:  “This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”

If the White House thinks this is all a big show, imagine how Republicans really feel.

John Boehner is no Charlie Brown.  He is not going to run and try to kick the football, only to Obama’s Lucy pull it away from him at the last minute.   That makes it even more difficult to get a grand bargain.

A Grand Bargain, by its very nature, is an affront to the regular order.   A Grand Bargain happens when the big guys get into a room and cut a deal and tell their colleagues to fall in line.   A Grand Bargain happens when the leaders have a firm hold on their followers.  And a Grand Bargain happens when the leaders have enough trust in one another to jump into the abyss together.

Grand Bargains are very rare, because the historical conditions that make Grand Bargains possible don’t happen very often.

It doesn’t seem like this is the best time for a Grand Bargain.  The followers seem to have little trust in the leaders.  The leaders have no trust in each other.   There seems to be a desire to get back to regular order.

So, instead of trying to foist a Grand Bargain on reluctant Congress, maybe the leaders should instead focus on concluding a mini-bargain, done through regular order.

What would a mini-bargain contain?

Well, instead of trying to find a dramatic overhaul to entitlement programs, perhaps the committees could find a way to make some pretty modest changes that will slowly but surely save trillions of dollars in the out years.  We aren’t going to get a premium-support plan through the system, but perhaps we can slowly raise the retirement age for Medicare and slowly make rich people pay more for the program.

On Social Security, we aren’t going to be able to get a complete overhaul of the program, but perhaps we can make some modest changes to the consumer price index used to determine how much each senior gets in a cost of living adjustment.  Small changes will lead to big bucks in the future.

On the tax front, perhaps doing a complete overhaul might be too ambitious for this crowd.  Instead, perhaps Camp and Baucus could come up with a series of smaller corporate tax reforms, perhaps getting rid of some loopholes, perhaps finding ways to bring the trillion dollars of corporate money parked overseas back home in a repatriation holiday.

Daniel Burnham didn’t want to make little plans, but sometimes, only the little plans can make it through our convoluted political system.  This might be one of those times.

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