Rubin: The deal that got away last time
There are cheery faces and upbeat appraisals from the White House and Capitol Hill on the prospects of a grand bargain. You do sort of get the sense that both sides are developing faux amnesia so that their respective bases can make a deal. After all, if they make pretty much the same deal they could have done in the summer of 2011, the president in particular would look really silly.
So you get a lot of reports these days that insist that since Nov. 6, "when Obama won re-election and Democrats made gains in the House and Senate on a pledge to make the rich "pay their fair share," Republicans have backed down from the fight. On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, acknowledged the need for fresh revenue to restrain a public debt that has swollen to dangerous levels as long as Democrats agree to tackle the rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid, the biggest drivers of future borrowing. Well this actually occurred in the summer of 2011 when President Obama fumbled away a deal that included $800 billion in new revenue offered up by Speaker Boehner.
On one hand Republicans get mileage from offering something "new." (Not really, but shhh!). Liberals can crow that the election forced Republicans to put revenue on the table. (That's a story that mainstream media like very much, since they never credited Republicans in 2011 with putting revenue on the table first in the grand bargain negotiations and then in the supercommittee.) Boehner and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who proposed new revenue in the supercommittee, must be getting a chuckle.
This is not to say that the election didn't serve a useful purpose in getting things unstuck. The vote for the status quo in the House, Senate and White House was in effect a vote to try again. And what better way to do it than to use the deal that got away last time?
The grand bargain talks are instructive as to why "the most important election" of our lifetimes usually isn't where domestic policy is concerned. Whoever arrives or returns to the White House finds the table set to a large degree by previous positions, negotiations and events. It is only when the new president is accompanied by a change in one or both houses of Congress (e.g., 1980) and there is an exceptionally skilled president (as Ronald Reagan was) that tectonic shifts can occur. Really, do we think that Congress would have reached agreement on a grand bargain that did not include new revenue if Mitt Romney had been elected?