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Negotiating the Negotiations: A “Fiscal Cliff” Strategy for the GOP

Many people have analyzed Mitt Romney’s election loss and proposed solutions to avoid a repeat in 2016. If I could summarize my primary criticisms in three brief bullet points, they would be:

  • A failure to look stuff up

  • An apparent inability to formulate and articulate a counterargument

  • An apparent inability to proffer to one’s opponent a logical trap for which there is no effective counterargument.

While the Romney campaign is now in the rearview mirror, these same points remain salient for a more immediate concern: the upcoming “fiscal cliff” negotiation between the GOP House, President Obama, and the Democratic Senate.

Step One:  Look stuff up.  And it should not take much looking (it took me perhaps five minutes on the Internet) to dredge up the sorry record of TEFRA, the 1982 budget deal, in which President Reagan agreed to $1 in tax increases in exchange for every $3 in spending cuts. As we all know, the tax increases were enacted immediately, but the promised spending cuts never happened. Nor is it particularly hard to find a reference to the 1990 budget deal, in which a second GOP president was snookered into agreeing to immediate tax increases in exchange for spending cuts that never materialized.

Which brings us to the third bullet point and the tactic that I would like to see the House and Senate Republicans (but especially the House, where Republicans have the majority) use in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

To wit: When the Democrats demand a tax-rate increase in exchange for spending cuts, Republicans should smile and remind the Democrats (and the American public –we really need to insist that the negotiations be videotaped and/or broadcast live) of the two past instances of unrealized spending cuts and say the following:  “But of course, President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader Pelosi, we Republicans would be delighted to discuss (not implement, only discuss) raising tax rates on “the wealthy” – as soon as we’ve made every penny of the spending cuts Democrats promised in 1982 and 1990. Adjusted for inflation, of course.”

I invite other minds, wiser than mine, to weigh in, but for Democrats, I really see no logical way out of this. Of course, Obama, Reid and Pelosi will balk, but the Republicans’ (my choice would be McConnell, for what it’s worth) rejoinder is simple: “Are you saying, Mr. President, that Democrats have no intention of keeping the promises they already made?”  Is the word of Democrats no good?  If Democrats will not keep the two spending-cut promises they already made, why should the Republicans, let alone the American people, trust them a third time?

And to the American people: Given the Democrats’ past failure, twice, to keep their word on spending cuts, are Republicans not justified in demanding to see all of the spending cuts made first, before we even talk about raising tax rates?

The answer, of course, is yes, and any American who is not a liberal Democrat should be able to see it.

And I do mean, see. And hear. Republicans really must demand that the negotiations be broadcast live or at least be videotaped. Do not allow Obama’s media sycophants to spoon-feed their interpretation to the public. Regardless of whether the GOP negotiators adopt my idea, insist that the American people be allowed to see, hear, and decide for themselves.

  1. Edward Smith

    Gene, can we simultaneously and instantaneously elect you to Boehner’s seat in the House, Mitch McConnell’s seat in the Senate, and maybe even Eric Cantor’s seat in the House – and to all their Committee and Subcommittee Seats and Chairmanships?

    We need a mind and spirit like yours in their place.

  2. Copperfield
    Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor

    The answer, of course, is yes, and any American who is not a liberal Democrat should be able to see it.

    Good suggestions, Mr. Schwimmer, but regarding the statement quoted above… we just had an election where a lot more than liberal democrats cut off their noses (and ours in the bargain) to spite their faces.  Do we think logic will work with these people.  I have my reservations.  Thanks for the post.  Interesting argument. 
  3. Jimmy Carter

    Ds: We’ll agree to government cuts. Our Military is over bloated anyway.

    Rs: But… but… We can’t cut the Military.

    Ds: See? The Republicans ain’t serious about government cuts.

  4. Cunctator

    Sadly, I’ve recently become a member of the “let it burn” caucus. As with Hostess, San Bernardino, and Stockton, I believe the lesson is nobody is willing to be rational and cut or compromise as long as things can be pushed all the way to extinction. So, I’ve developed a quiet calm, because the American people have determined that a serious balanced approach is not desirable. C’est la vie, je crois!

  5. Ed G.
    Copperfield

    Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor

    The answer, of course, is yes, and any American who is not a liberal Democrat should be able to see it.

    Good suggestions, Mr. Schwimmer, but regarding the statement quoted above… we just had an election where a lot more than liberal democrats cut off their noses (and ours in the bargain) to spite their faces.  Do we think logic will work with these people.  I have my reservations.  Thanks for the post.  Interesting argument.  · 0 minutes ago

    Also, just because the negotiations are televised doesn’t mean that anyone will watch. Most people will still rely on the interpretations of whoever they like.

  6. liberal jim

    “Negotiations”  Exactly what article in the constitution contains any reference to this idea.  If Boehner enters into negotiations he loses.  Even without a favorable press Obama controls the messaging about any negotiations.  Boehner should invite Obama to submit his written detail proposals to congress and promise to hold hearings and votes on them  promptly with the eventual aim to incorporated as many of the Presidents ideas into the final legislation as feasible.

    Your suggestion would be applicable if logic actually played a significant role in the farce that is playing itself out.  But it does not.

    This is not about spending or taxes.  It is about PR and the 2014 elections.  Obama wants to paint the GOP house as radical and extreme. and use this to regain control in 2014.   

  7. Nick Stuart

    Not a question of whether the Republican leadership gets rolled (or rolls over), just a matter of how soon.

  8. Cutlass

    Does the car in that photo represent us going the way of Cuba?

  9. Cutlass
    Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor

    Edward Smith: Gene, can we simultaneously and instantaneously elect you to Boehner’s seat in the House, Mitch McConnell’s seat in the Senate, and maybe even Eric Cantor’s seat in the House – and to all their Committee and Subcommittee Seats and Chairmanships?

    We need a mind and spirit like yours in their place. · 8 hours ago

    I’m available!  But seriously, I would be happy if one or more of the people you mentioned would read this. If any of the Ricochet community reading this is a U.S. senator or representative or has access to one, maybe you could pass this suggestion along?

    And finally, seriously – and again, if any GOP poobahs or anyone who knows one is reading this – I think I could be much more useful as a strategist, working for the Party or the national campaign.  Feel free to contact me through Ricochet!

    And fear not, if I am honored with promotion to full-contributor status, I would still write for Ricochet.

    Dr. Rahe has been known to get notes slipped under the right doors.

  10. Chris Johnson

    There are two strategies:

    Fight, and no one will watch, then Republicans will be blamed for disaster. And,

    Acquiesce, and no one will watch, then Republicans will be blamed for disaster.

    I suppose I opt for the fight that Gene proposes, just to get a bit more on the record, for the future.  Meantime, the real battles are at home.  Congress is a problem, but my Republican governor is now making polite noises about meeting with Obama and seeing where common ground may be found on Obamacare.

    First, we need to shore up our backyards.

  11. Ron

    It appears you have forgotten our need to neutralize the main stream media.

       I have a Mexican-American friend.  Today I asked a leading question to get her started on the subject of her feelings about Obama’s win.  Let me add that she is intelligent and open minded.  As she expounded on her attitudes it is obvious that she takes for granted a lot of stuff we wouldn’t agree to for an instant.  We lost the war of information.  Her sources of information were Univision (Is that the Spanish American language broadcaster?) and to a lesser extent the MSM.  To which I reply — the progressives began their indoctronation program in 1919.  Why wouldn’t she agree with them?

  12. MJBubba

    I like the approach outlined in this post.  The part about having the negotiations on video is appealing.   Hold the negotiating sessions on CSPAN, just like Obama promised in 2008.

  13. Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor
    C
    Edward Smith: Gene, can we simultaneously and instantaneously elect you to Boehner’s seat in the House, Mitch McConnell’s seat in the Senate, and maybe even Eric Cantor’s seat in the House – and to all their Committee and Subcommittee Seats and Chairmanships?

    We need a mind and spirit like yours in their place. · 8 hours ago

    I’m available!  But seriously, I would be happy if one or more of the people you mentioned would read this. If any of the Ricochet community reading this is a U.S. senator or representative or has access to one, maybe you could pass this suggestion along?

    And finally, seriously – and again, if any GOP poobahs or anyone who knows one is reading this – I think I could be much more useful as a strategist, working for the Party or the national campaign.  Feel free to contact me through Ricochet!

    And fear not, if I am honored with promotion to full-contributor status, I would still write for Ricochet.

  14. Scott R

    The problem with this plan is that if negotiations break off, the Bush tax cuts expire.  Dems would then propose a middle class cut to replace the expiring Bush cuts that they wish to preserve. Republicans would have to vote for such cuts, and so in the end Obama gets what he wants — tax increases on the wealthy; no change for everyone else – and we get zero spending cuts.

    We have very little leverage here, I’m afraid.

  15. Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor
    C
    Copperfield

    Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor

    The answer, of course, is yes, and any American who is not a liberal Democrat should be able to see it.

    Good suggestions, Mr. Schwimmer, but regarding the statement quoted above… we just had an election where a lot more than liberal democrats cut off their noses (and ours in the bargain) to spite their faces.  Do we think logic will work with these people.  I have my reservations.  Thanks for the post.  Interesting argument.  · 9 hours ago

    Maybe not, but no harm in trying.  The GOP strategy, so far, has not impressed me all that much.

  16. Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor
    C
    Gus Marvinson: If Romney had natural law/conservative sensibilities, points two and three would have been reflexive for him. It’s hard to sell something you don’t believe in. · 8 hours ago

    I agree.

  17. Gene Schwimmer, Guest Contributor
    C
    CJRun: There are two strategies:

    Meantime, the real battles are at home.  Congress is a problem, but my Republican governor is now making polite noises about meeting with Obama and seeing where common ground may be found on Obamacare.

    First, we need to shore up our backyards. · 3 hours ago

    Edited 3 hours ago

    First, you need to write to your governor, and encourage as many other people in your state to do so as well.  The “battle at home” may still be lost if you fight, but you will not win if you don’t fight.

    The federal government just extended the state exchange decision deadline by a month, no doubt because so few states have agreed to set them up.  That’s one more month to write, phone, email and demonstrate the bejeezus out of your governor, your legislators and your local papers’ editorial pages.

    And if, a month from now, the number of states establishing exchanges has not increased, we just may begin to see the tide turn.

  18. Group Captain Mandrake

    I suppose that if challenged by the Republicans as to the failure to honour previous spending cut commitments, the Dems could take a leaf from a former British Foreign Secretary* and say “we mean it this time”.

    * I remember coming across the incident in the transcript to a House of Commons debate.  The Foreign Secretary in question was challenged by an MP over a promise that he had just made during a debate, because he’d reneged on a similar promise made a few years prior.  He blandly replied “This time it is meant.”

  19. Gus Marvinson

    If Romney had natural law/conservative sensibilities, points two and three would have been reflexive for him. It’s hard to sell something you don’t believe in.

  20. Austin Murrey
    Erik Larsen: Sadly, I’ve recently become a member of the “let it burn” caucus. As with Hostess, San Bernardino, and Stockton, I believe the lesson is nobody is willing to be rational and cut or compromise as long as things can be pushed all the way to extinction. So, I’ve developed a quiet calm, because the American people have determined that a serious balanced approach is not desirable. C’est la vie, je crois! · 30 minutes ago

    The Democrats truly believe they are Louis XIV: basking in the warm certainty that their majesty will prevent anything bad from happening, or if it does happen, it won’t affect them.

    The problem of course is that they are the equivalent of Louis XV.  “Apres nous, le deluge” should be their party motto.

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