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Whatever happened to making deals?

One of the odder elements to the non-security discretionary spending freeze -- a policy that really needs a better title, or at least a better acronym -- is that it's not in exchange for anything, at least as far as anybody knows. This is the sort of policy Blue Dogs love, but the administration didn't use it to buy their votes on health-care reform. This is the sort of policy that Republicans routinely demand, but the administration didn't use it to secure a deal on revenues. If this were part of a deal, it would make a lot more sense.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 26, 2010; 1:41 PM ET
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Next: Taking the freeze seriously


It's called preemptive capitulation, the theory that surrendering something now will enable you to get something of what you want from the other side (out of the goodness of their hearts, I guess). The Administration has been doing it for the last year on stimulus, financial reform, and health-care reform, and until last week you were happy to cheer it on. Are you awake now?

Posted by: redscott | January 26, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

I do not recall Nixon going to China as some sort of deal with the liberals but it still produced very good long term foreign policy benifits. Having a Democrat president propose a spending freeze could produce the same results for fiscal policy. Making it part of some sort of deal would actually weaken the impact.

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | January 26, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

It's the bizarre dynamic that Obama's let himself be led into--since you can't actually compromise with the Republicans now, you make the your half of the compromise to show how reasonable you are and stake out the middle ground.

Problem is, the media's committed enough to "teaching the controversy" that he never gets credit for staking out the moderate position, while he does piss his own base off more and more. You'd think they'd figure this out sometime...

Posted by: RobK_ | January 26, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Obama is just taking his deal directly to the voter. Palin does it on Facebook... not that she actually has anything to offer.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | January 26, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

There is a "deal" involved, but not with Republicans.

Obama's *give* is indeed to freeze the spending of some small portion of the budget.

Obama's *get* is the media's and the gullible portion of the public's belief that he favors spending restraints and smaller deficits unlike his predecessor, i.e. that he isn't a fiscal nightmare of a president. That enables him to dole out lots of taxpayer dollars in the form of vote-buying entitlements. It's sharp politics and poor policy. Again.

Posted by: angrydoug1 | January 26, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

*****This is the sort of policy Blue Dogs love, but the administration didn't use it to buy their votes on health-care reform*****

Well, my take on this (or, my "hope" for this) move is that it IS about blue dogs and healthcare reform. Maybe he did get a promise from some of them we don't know about, or, more likely, he's just trying to preemptively give them cover. If this isn't part of the equation, then I see no justification for this particular PR move.

Posted by: Jasper99 | January 26, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

This whole panoply has given rise to a new verb around the office: whenever we're going into negotiations, we warn the person not to "Obama" themselves, because beginning negotiations from an already-compromised position is just silly.

Posted by: Fnor | January 26, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"Well, my take on this (or, my "hope" for this) move is that it IS about blue dogs and healthcare reform. "

Evan Bayah was certainly talking about this about a week ago, and we were all scratching our heads about what a bad idea it would be.

Posted by: adamiani | January 26, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm sort of wondering if it *is* part of a deal; that Evan Bayh will vote for more stuff in exchange for this...

Posted by: NicholasBeaudrot | January 26, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

the problem with Jasper99's theory is that the same premise Ezra makes can be made with the bank bailouts. We'll bail you out because its "necessary" but you've gotta clean up your act. How long does this payback take?? I'd vote on the side of "spineless act by an administration that wants to be well liked instead of govern well".

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Whoah. I agree with visionbrkr! This does seem to be an attempt at Obama trying to get on the "good side" of his critics.

Obama has a reluctance to get on the bad side of his opponents. I, for one, am not reluctant at all to remind Republicans how they cluelessly followed Bush off a cliff while spending 8 years mindlessly repeating GOP talking points in the hope that it would magically bestow them with authority. As a result, we have to keep them as far away from power and relentlessly mock them for their lack of judgment and maturity, lest they ever lead us off that cliff ever again. Obama should have been hammering that point day in and day out.

Posted by: constans | January 26, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

What I don't understand about comments like visionbrkr's (and don't get me wrong, I've seen many people make this argument) that this isn't part of a secret deal is that there's no way we could possibly know whether there's a deal or not. Unless somebody here has a source inside the WH that they're willing to out that says, "Yeah, there's no secret deal" then you're just making stuff up. Of course, the theory that there's a secret deal is made up too.

We just don't know what's going on behind closed doors. All we can judge are results. If President Obama doesn't follow through with his pledge to get healthcare reform passed (and yeah, it doesn't look good right now), that will be bad (though clearly not 100% his fault). If he suggests this spending freeze and it ends up having a terrible effect on recovery, it will be bad (though again, not 100% his fault if Congress mucks it up).

We can blame politicians for the bad things they do and the mistakes that they make, but we have to wait until we know what the mistakes are and how they were made. Even Monday morning quarterbacking waits until the day after the game is over.

Posted by: MosBen | January 26, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Discretionary spending

Posted by: billkarwin | January 26, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Maybe he's doing it so that the Republicans have to get back on the side of Medicare cuts in order to differentiate themselves in the next election. We saw a reversal among many of them going out of their way to claim protecting Medicare was a reason to oppose to the health care bill. What's left for the Republicans to stake out- Obama's even including tax cuts in the jobs plan!

Anyone serious about cutting the deficit has to cut the two largest expenditures we have- Medicare and Social Security and increase tax revenue. There are relatively painless ways to do this, increasing the minimum ages to adjust for life expectancy, reducing benefits to the rich, and Medicare efficiencies of various kinds- such as "death panels", which I am a big supporter of. All of these are great ideas, but not populist in the least and will catch the Republicans out in their pretense to care about balancing the budget.

Get ready for QE2.

Posted by: staticvars | January 26, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse


I'll accept that as the back-handed compliment that I expect it was.


you're right we can't know but what we can say is that Obama has bent over backwards after handing the banks billions. We also can infer that there was no deal with the banks because he's now come out with a tax of them that they're balking at (JP Morgan Chase was livid in England about the 50% tax there btw). So I can reasonably infer its being done after the fact. Also look around and you'll see that they're still up to their old tricks. It may just have a different name this time around.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

It wasn't a back-handed compliment, visionbrkr. I actually do agree with your observation about Obama this time, without snark. It doesn't actually change the way I, personally, feel about Republicans, though.

Posted by: constans | January 26, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Preemptive capitulation. Exactly! It's so moronic. And so classically Democrat. And why I'm an independent now, thank you very much.

Posted by: RalfW | January 26, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

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