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Where the Mistakes Were Made

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As the Pauls note below, the horrible debt deal is not a pleasant thing to come back to, and I’m sure it’s not hard to convince most of our audience that it’s bad on the merits.

On the politics, I think Chait gets it right. The best defense you can make of Obama is that, given how the leverage was distributed, this deal is about as good as Obama could have gotten. It’s almost impossible to know what the optimal possible outcome of a political negotiation of this kind is, but I essentially agree; unlike Paul, I don’t think I would want the House to vote it down, because I think by far the most likely result would be a deal that’s as bad or worse plus default.

But, as Chait also correctly notes, this isn’t much of a defense of Obama because he played a major role in creating this extremely favorable context for the Republicans. I suppose we don’t know to a certainty if he could have gotten a ceiling increase when he had the leverage of the expiring Bush tax cuts and a still-Democratic House to work with, but we don’t know because he made no serious effort to do so, a massive blunder. And this central mistake was then compounded through preemptive capitulation on the Republican decision to engage in hostage-taking. Throughout the process, the unwarranted faith in Republican reasonableness that Obama has always been accused of was glaringly evident.

So, yes, the deal won’t be that bad if Obama and the congressional Dems are willing to use the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as leverage (or, better yet, just let them expire, which unlike defaulting on the debt would likely be a better policy option than any deal likely to emerge.) What basis there is for believing that Obama and the Dems would be willing to do this, however, I can’t tell you.

…John Judis makes the kill-the-bill case. I’m still not convinced — ultimately, I think it’s as over-optimistic from the left as Obama was from the center. I’d be happy to kill the bill if I thought that the kind of deal that Judis describes could be passed, but I don’t think it can.

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