Debt ceiling negotiations: folding the bad bluffs
Jan 12, 2013

Debt ceiling negotiations: folding the bad bluffs

The White House has now declared that it is ruling out the two possible executive branch work arounds that would have potentially allowed them to bypass the congressional GOP's attempt to extract massive concessions on the typically minor and procedural debt ceiling issue. Namely, Obama will not use the tricks of minting a million dollar coin or a vague fourteenth amendment passage untested in the courts.

These ideas have been floated around for a while now as a possible solution and there has been a bit of grumbling from the left that Obama has caved in his negotiations by essentially throwing away these "bargaining chips", as digby puts it, while gaining nothing. As appealing as it is to find some easy panacea that simply eliminates the saber-rattling being threatened by the GOP to extract concessions, these options were not them and Obama was quite correct, tactically, to eliminate any threat of using them.

Obama is never going to use those options for the simple reason that they are both ridiculous. Laughable, even. Nor should he. Even if they managed to pass the constitutional tests, they are such a flagrant outreach of executive power it would and should be unacceptable. Can you imagine the blowback if Bush literally minted a trillion dollar coin to pay for the Iraq wars if Congress had tried to prevent it by holding him to the debt ceiling? It is fun to talk about, but everyone involved knows it won't happen.

So the question then, is there a tactical advantage to hold this threat out there? The GOP is ostensibly bluffing in the debt ceiling as well, could not Obama do the same? Firstly, I think it is recognized by the establishment that Obama's chances of minting a trillion dollar coin were orders of magnitude less likely than the GOP going for a temporary chicken match over the debt ceiling for a few days or weeks. We are in the situation where the more Obama pushes this bluff, the more the GOP can push back on theirs. When Obama doesn't play these games, he gets to act like he has a real hand as the sensible guy not trying to actively destroy the US economy for partisan gain. All the strength in his hand is for waste if he turns it into a bluff. By eliminating the bluffing option Obama is not throwing his bargaining chips away, he is doubling down, as it were, on the actual chips at his disposable opposed to playing games with fake ones.

To make the poker analogy even more pedantic: when your bluff is obvious, you ought to fold instead of bluffing. If you miss your flush draw on the river but the four pairs, there is no point in bluffing, representing that you have trip fours when it is obvious to everyone that you could never have that hand and are always bluffing with the missed draw. There is no point in bluff raising because the GOP is induced to shove all in over us since they know we are buffing, thus escalating the conflict.

The optics are also terrible. We want to give the impression that the GOP is playing a stupid, dangerous game risking much to try to win partisan battles. The Democrats, in contrast, are the serious, pragmatic ones. That is how we win hearts and minds. If Obama were to act like he is playing childhood games with gimmicks like a trillion dollar coin, it turns the entire argument around.

I think the argument that Obama is simply a bad tactician and that is why the deals always suck so much for progressives has, as reality has set in, dissipated from its one time high as the go to excuse for understanding why we got the deals we got. Rightly or wrongly, in this instance Obama has made the right tactical move. It wasn't even a hard move to make; it was just one of those little things that got a lot of undue attention in the pundit class and forced him to official deny the obvious truth that it was never going to happen before the pundits ruined the optics any further.

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1 comment:

Paulo McManus said...

And i want to add too that GOP had moonwalk away from debt ceiling issue.

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