The President Learned the Wrong Lesson from 2011

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post reports that President Obama and unnamed White House advisers are worried that the GOP does not understand how serious the President is about not giving anything to the GOP for a debt limit increase. Simply put “there will be no policy concessions in exchange for a debt limit that would damage Dem priorities.”

In another post on the same topic earlier today, Sargent writes:

Obama won reelection decisively, and now it’s House Republicans
who stand to lose the most politically from default and economic havoc.
All indications are that Obama now believes he made a major mistake in
2011 and is determined not to repeat it.

All of this fits with the President’s ongoing public and private pronouncements that he will make no deals regarding the debt limit.

Here’s the problem. The President’s staff may be convinced they will come
out on top in this game of debt limit chicken but the public has been saying for weeks that they want
a compromise solution. A NY Times poll published last month made it clear that the
public does expect Democrats to give something in exchange for more
borrowing authority.

And a new CBS poll today shows that nearly identical percentages of respondents want both sides to compromise. When asked, 76 percent think President Obama and Senate Democrats should compromise. Meanwhile, 78 percent want the GOP to compromise.

Compromise means meeting somewhere in the middle but right now you have only one party willing to deal. The President’s no-compromise stance seems to be working for him right now because, according to CBS, 44 percent of the public blames the GOP for the shutdown while just 35 percent blame Democrats.

However, if there is a default or a near default that could change. So far what we’re seeing is what we’ve seen before. If it moves to a new stage and the public decides that one side is playing tough instead of meeting in the middle, opinions on who is to blame could shift very quickly.

I agree with Sargent that Obama made “a major mistake” in 2011, however it’s not the one the White House seems to think it is. When the debt limit negotiations blew up in 2011 it was not because Republicans were unwilling to deal and the President was too willing. The deal blew up because the President tried to sweeten the pot after he and Speaker Boehner had reached an outline amenable to both sides. Obama wanted to look good for his progressive allies and it cost him the deal.

Reading Sargent it seems clear the same mindset is holding sway in the White House right now. The President once again wants a big win that will please the left and once again he’s prepared to throw caution to the wind to get it. Forget compromise, the White House is saying, it’s the President’s way or the highway. Last time he got the highway called sequestration.

The lesson the President should have learned back in 2011 is that a less-than-ideal compromise is sometimes better than the alternative. But right now he seems to be making the same mistakes all over again.

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