You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Editorial columns

  • Hoosier court reinforces lack of hope in justice system
    Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court added to its legacy of contempt for working-class Hoosiers by proclaiming that a deceptively named “right-to-work” law does not violate the Indiana Constitution.
  • Erin's House helps grieving kids cope
    We have all seen the headlines – car accident, one fatality, a male 35 years old – but we sometimes forget the likelihood that there is a child tied to this adult. Maybe he was a father, uncle, brother, cousin or dear friend.
  • Word to the wise: Build vocabulary early
    The PNC Financial Services Group recently hosted the Guinness Book of World Records attempt for largest vocabulary lesson as part of Grow Up Great, our early childhood education program.
Advertisement

In cliff talks, circular logic is progress

– If you are distracted by the holidays and not paying attention to every twist and turn of the “fiscal cliff” drama, the guidelines we set up several weeks ago still apply. Until House Republicans say they support a tax rate hike, you can ignore the noise and go about your life.

However, if you happened to turn on C-SPAN on Tuesday, you might have seen Speaker John Boehner and wonder what’s going on. Boehner said that President Obama has not offered enough spending cuts in negotiations. The only way Boehner is going to get House Republicans to sign on to a tax increase is if he can show his troops that the president has agreed to significant spending cuts. That sounds like stalemate. It is. It’s also a sign of progress.

Fiscal cliff talks have this frustrating circularity to them. That’s why the Wall Street Journal can claim there is progress on the same day The Chicago Tribune can say there is a stalemate. If you continue reading, we can’t be responsible for putting you in a bad mood.

We’re at a standstill because Boehner won’t agree to a rate increase or because the president won’t agree to big enough spending cuts, but if the two sides are talking that’s progress relative to not talking at all. To some degree, it’s always going to look like both progress and stalemate until there is either a deal or until the whole thing finally breaks down and we go over the “cliff.”

The final fiscal cliff deal will almost certainly contain an increase in tax rates and spending cuts large enough – or of a kind – to irritate the president’s supporters. White House advisers say that in the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, the administration named too many spending cuts on the theory that Republicans would then agree to tax revenue – but then the GOP cuts didn’t follow. So they’re going to let Republicans go first this time. GOP sources say the White House hasn’t been as forthcoming as during the last set of negotiations – Medicaid changes are one example. So Republicans are legitimately frustrated. That might make you think the needle is pointed toward stalemate.

But if there is ever going to be a deal, it will only happen if Boehner looks like he has dragged the president somewhere Obama doesn’t want to go. Each time the speaker makes a public display, it shows that he is fighting the good fight and holding the president’s feet to the fire. Now, if there is a deal, he can say, “I beat on the president about cutting spending, and he gave in.” Members are going to look closely at the math above the theatrics, but if Boehner were unable to point to moments of peril and stalemate, his rank-and-file will just assume he got rolled. Therefore, this statement that seems to be about frustration can actually be seen as a necessary prerequisite for a deal.

The one trick for Boehner is that he can’t appear to be too effective. He doesn’t want to stir his members into such a fevered pitch that they don’t accept any deal. Perhaps that’s why Boehner described his meeting with the president last weekend as “nice” and “cordial.”

Everyone is still at the negotiating table fighting about taxes and spending, which means nothing has really changed in the underlying story. By the end of the day, we learned that Boehner made his C-SPAN-televised remarks after receiving a White House offer (which he didn’t mention on the House floor). The president had trimmed his proposal that $1.6 trillion be raised from taxes to $1.4 trillion. Boehner responded with his own counteroffer later in the day. Negotiations have stalled – which means they are making progress.

John Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent.

Advertisement