BOB WOODWARD: Time to pivot like the Gipper on 'fiscal cliff'
Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.
The fire brigade of Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Throughout the standoff, the players used their staff as messengers
Could the staffers have done better? The behind-the-scenes story of the failure of the supercommittee last year, until now unreported, suggests that they could have.
The supercommittee was charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years. To guarantee its success, Congress and
The committee had about three months to do its work. While most of the congressional leaders and supercommittee members were out of town in October 2011, they assigned top staffers to work out a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction
The group included Boehner's policy director, Brett Loper, and McConnell's top tax and financial policy adviser, Rohit Kumar. Reid designated Jon Selib, chief of staff to the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus. Top staffers to the supercommittee co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray
The five staffers struggled for a week. In my files is a one-page, typed document dated Oct. 23, 2011, showing that they essentially reached agreement. The Republicans had a total deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion and the Democrats had $1.24 trillion
Some staffers were ready to break out the champagne. They had a pipeline straight to the leadership in both parties. But the members of the supercommittee did not trust each other. Instead of adopting the staff agreement or a version of it, they decided to go big and craft a deficit-reduction package of up to $3 trillion. They were shooting for a
Over those two months, the leaders cannot be detached or indifferent, but they may need to get out of the way and let their able staff, working with bipartisan empowerment, come up with a plan. Maybe the president and congressional leaders should send their relevant staffers to Camp David for a week or two and instruct them to come up with a blueprint.
The old standbys
In late 1982, President Ronald Reagan, not one to get lost in detail, very reluctantly signed into law the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which his staff had persuaded him was necessary. At that time, it was the largest tax increase in history, some $100 billion in business taxes over 10 years.
Reagan White House aides told me at the time how the president responded when asked how a renowned tax-cutter such as himself could approve a tax increase.
Darn, Reagan said, did we do that? He then pivoted and rather elegantly picked up one of his feet and kicked himself in the rear. Everyone laughed.
Both Democrats and Republicans need to circumvent the vulture politics of the day that demonizes the opposition. Obama and Boehner need to create a climate in which all involved can adopt the stylish accommodation of Ronald Reagan, pivot elegantly, kick themselves in the rear end and declare, Darn, did we do that?
Bob Woodward is an associate editor of
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