A few years back, there was a boom in poker television — shows in which you got to watch the betting and bluffing of expert card players. Since then, however, viewers seem to have lost interest. But I have a suggestion: Instead of featuring poker experts, why not have a show featuring poker incompetents — people who fold when they have a strong hand or don’t know how to quit while they’re ahead? On second thought, that show already exists. It’s called budget negotiations, and it’s now in its second episode.
The first episode ran in 2011, as President Barack Obama made his first attempt to cut a long-run fiscal deal — a so-called Grand Bargain — with John Boehner, the speaker of the House. Obama was holding a fairly weak hand, after a midterm election in which Democrats took a beating. Nonetheless, the concessions he offered were breathtaking: He was willing to accept huge spending cuts, not to mention a rise in the Medicare eligibility age, in return for a vague promise of higher revenue without any increase in tax rates.
This deal, if implemented, would have been a huge victory for Republicans, deeply damaging both programs dear to Democrats and the Democratic political brand.
But it never happened. Why? Because Boehner and members of his party couldn’t bring themselves to accept even a modest rise in taxes. And their intransigence saved Obama from himself.
Now the game is on again — but with Obama holding a far stronger hand. He and his party won a solid victory in this year’s election. And the legislative clock is very much in their favor, too. All the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the month.
A brief digression: I’ve become aware of a new effort by the GOP to bully reporters into referring only to the “Bush-era” tax cuts, probably in the hope of dissociating those cuts, which they want to preserve, from a president voters now regard with disdain. But George W. Bush and his administration devised those cuts and rammed them through Congress, and it’s deceptive to suggest otherwise.