Photo of the day

The N&O put together their favorite photos (from N&O photographers) of the year.  A lot of them are of Duke, UNC, and NCSU basketball, which I enjoyed, but I realize aren’t for everybody.  I really liked this one of a local historic site, which I really need to get back to one of these days:

Fallen leaves float on the surface of Yates Mill Pond November 5, 2012 near the restored 1756 grist mill, the centerpiece of Historic Yates Mill County Park. The windy and gusty conditions brought by Hurricane Sandy last week have hastened the leaf drop in the Triangle area. (Takaaki Iwabu)

More on the strategery

All the TNR bloggers light into him pretty good (and rightly so, in my opinion).  Cohn is the most gentle:

I could make a solid case that this deal, if it holds, would represent a massive defeat for liberals. Expiration of the Bush tax cuts represented the best opportunity for undoing the damage of those acts—for reclaiming the revenue those tax cuts squandered and, as a result, providing the government with enough money to continue funding vital programs. The deal the administration and Republicans were negotiating as of Monday would raise just $600 billion in revenue, which is less than half of what President Obama sought initially…

Could the administration have gotten more revenue by holding out for a better deal? Quite possibly. But could the administration have gotten a lot more revenue? That’s less clear. Administration allies point out that congressional Democrats frequently floated ideas, like extending all tax cuts for incomes below $1 million, that would have generated far less revenue. Meanwhile, the administration managed to get a deal that, despite the revenue, includes no spending cuts whatsoever—on discretionary programs or Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—even though Republicans had been demanding them.

Tim Noah, less so:

Dear House and Senate Democrats,

Your president has sold you out. A deal will likely be announced today canceling the scheduled income-tax increase on all family income below $450,000, instead of the promised $250,000 threshold, which was already too high

The White House means well, but it has bargained incompetently. As Jonathan Chaitpoints out, any worry on the White House’s part that it will be undercut by Senate Democrats too eager to make an even-worse deal is matched by a well-founded fear on the Senate Democrats’ part that the White House won’t hang tough. And anyway, the president has veto power, for crying out loud! Ezra Klein reports that the Democrats think they can make a deal now, force another tax increase later, and still get Republicans to back down on the debt ceiling. This is delusional. Any Republican who at this point believes Democrats will drive a hard bargain must be judged a fool.

Indeed.  And Noam Scheiber is the harshest (and most on point):

I’ll be blunt: I hate the fiscal-cliff compromise that Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden are hammering out today…

I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he’d previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to “close” the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it. As a practical matter, this signaled to Republicans that the White House wouldn’t walk away from the bargaining table, allowing the GOP to keep extracting concessions into the absolute final hours before the deadline…

Instead, the emerging deal will reinforce the convictions that have made the GOP such a toxic presence in Washington. If Obama will cave even when he’s got all the leverage, when won’t he cave? Never, the Republicans will assume. If Obama’s too scared to stop bargaining and let the public decide who’s right in this instance, when the polls appear to back him, then he must think our position is more popular than he lets on. Suffice it to say, these are not sentiments you want at the front of Republicans’ mind as they prepare to shake him down over the debt limit in another two months. The White House continues to maintain that it simply won’t negotiate over the limit. After this deal, why would any Republican ever believe this? I certainly don’t, and I desperately want to.

Now, let’s not forget Obama is a very smart man, and a skilled politician.  I think he’s earned some of the benefit of the doubt.  That said, I do think it is somewhat clear that among his political flaws is an overly strong desire to be seen as a bipartisan dealmaker and the most reasonable man in the room.  Maybe he’s right and all the liberal bloggers are wrong.  But on this one, I’m definitely with all the liberal bloggers.

The problem with the deal

I suppose the deal isn’t that bad.  Though, I actually think it is an absolutely horrible idea to take the unduly low Bush tax rates (i.e., that clearly cannot finance the spending the American people clearly want), where expired yesterday, and make them permanent for all but the smallest portion of Americans.  The evidence is super clear that the economy can thrive (albeit not right now) under Clinton-era rate, but Obama and Democrats have chosen to tie us long term to tax rates that just cannot bring in enough revenue to accomplish progressive goals for government.  In exchange, they got a lot of temporary (though, fairly long term) concessions.  Okay, maybe the deal is that bad.  Other problem… Obama clearly got rolled again.  Do not draw a line in the sand of you are just going to back up and draw another line.  Obama drew a line at raising rates on those over $250K, but then backed down.  Basically, if you are Republicans, you can be pretty sure that no matter what Obama actually says, in the end he’ll give in.  An absolutely horrible position when there are continued negotiations to be had over the next two years.  Obama has said there’s no way he’s bargaining on the debt ceiling this time.  Right.  Who’s going to believe him now.  Drum:

So let’s tote up the winners and losers. On the deal itself, despite my misgivings yesterday, I guess I’d score it a short-term win for Obama. He had to give up a few things he wanted, notably the $250,000 income cutoff that he campaigned on, but he did wring a tax increase out of congressional Republicans. In the longer term, I’d score it a win for the GOP. Their backs were against a wall, since the Bush tax cuts were all going to expire anyway on January 1, and they managed to do two things. First, they kept the size of the deal limited. Second, they showed that Obama, as usual, isn’t serious when he lays down a line in the sand. No matter how firmly he insists on something, he’s always willing to deal. This is going to make Part 2 of the fiscal cliff negotiations very, very dangerous. [emphasis mine]

Tomasky is much more charitably-inclined:

While most liberals were stewing at Barack Obama yesterday for his “capitulation” on tax rates, I confess that I was feeling philosophical about it, and even mildly defensive of him. He is negotiating with madmen, and you can’t negotiate with madmen, because they’re, well, mad. I also spent part of yesterday morning re-reading a little history and reminding myself that rascality like this fiscal-cliff business has been going on since the beginning of the republic. So now I’d like to remind you. It’s always the reactionaries holding up the progressives—and usually, needless to say, it’s been the South holding up the North—and always with the same demagogic and dishonest arguments about a tyrannical central government. We’ll never be rid of these paranoid bloviators, and if no other president could stop them I don’t really see why Obama ought to be able to.

You know, in the end, I think it is just too easy to write Republicans off as irrational mad men, as much as they seem to act that way.   I just finished reading an excellent book, Don’t Shoot by David Kennedy (hopefully, more on that later this week) and he talks extensively about how everybody is convinced that drug dealers are irrational and will not respond to rational incentives.  Turns out nobody was using the right rational incentives, but once you do, you can make an enormous difference.   I suspect that in this regard, Republican Congress members are far more like drug dealers than Tomasky gives them credit for.

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