Is Boehner using Tea Party to employ Nixon’s ‘Madman’ strategy?
In the end, Boehner agreed to a package of $38.5 billion in cuts, a significant victory for a man who said his goal was to extract as much as possible from the federal budget. He also won limited victories on a handful of policy riders attached to the bill. But Boehner was forced to abandon some major demands, including Planned Parenthood, restrictions on the Environmental Protection Agency and efforts to restrict Obama’s health reform bill.
The budget deal was a limited victory for Obama, who showed that he could insert himself in the process and craft a bipartisan deal that maintained the EPA’s clean air act authority.
But strategically, Boehner would seem to have done better. He controls only “one-half of one-third of the government,” as he often says, but he “managed to make the most of that limited leverage “” both in forcing President Obama and the Democrats to come more than halfway on his party’s demand for spending cuts, and in making the absolutists in his own ranks accept the principle that compromise is part of governing,” as the Washington Post put it in today’s front-page story.
He may be making use of Nixon’s “Madman theory” of negotiations, exploiting the “craziness” of the Tea Party, which does give him some dealmaking leverage, at the expense of messaging clarity and public perception.
Before discussing that, let me make two points. First, the short-term deal cuts clean-tech programs (and one can assume that the full-year package will have cuts in both clean energy and in environmental programs — but see below on how Dems avoided deeper cuts here). Here’s some of what I was sent on a short-term deal’s $2 billion in cuts:
A Summary of the $2 billion in reductions contained in the 1-week CR is below:
Section 295 cuts funding for the Transportation Planning, Research, and Development account from $16.1 million in FY 2010 to $9.8 million….
Section 298 reduces FY 2011 funding for FRA High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail to $1 billion, a reduction of $1.5 billion from FY10.
Section 299 reduces the Federal Railroad Administration’s Research and Development account to $35.1 million, a reduction of $2.513 million below FY 2010….
Section 301 reduces funding for the Transit Research and University Research Centers Program to $64.2 million.
So the brunt of the short-term cuts come from R&D and medium-term efforts to reduce oil consumption – at a time that oil prices are soaring again!
I will report on the details of the $38 billion in cuts when I have them. The Politico reports on “Reasons Democrats Got a Good Deal”:
More than half–or $17 billion–of the final round of spending cuts came from changes in mandatory programs, or CHIMPs. The emphasis on this part of the budget staved off severe cuts to key domestic programs like education, clean energy, and medical research….
The final agreement eliminates nearly $3 billion in unnecessary Pentagon spending that was contained in H.R. 1. These reductions are supported by Secretary Gates.
Second, as Politico notes, the short-term deal provides “no guarantee that some new snag will scuttle the current deal next week – or that the compromise crafted this week makes it more likely future deals can be cut.” Even the $38 billion deal could require Democratic votes since it may well not get enough Republican votes to pass by itself.
The WashPost’s Steven Stomberg has a piece this morning, “Shutdown threat isn’t gone,” that explains:
But we aren’t necessarily through with shutdown scares this year, and Friday’s deal may make them more likely. It absolves the brinksmanship that led to it, rewarding Republican leaders for saying no until the last minute with more spending cuts than Democrats said they were willing to approve. It has fueled a nasty back-and-forth between the parties that encourages mistrust. These factors, combined with the fact that the speaker will have to convince his Tea Party wing to swallow the deal by promising bigger fights in the future, could make this sort of behavior more probable later, when the stakes are higher.
The Tea Party may be the perfect realization of Nixon’s “Madman theory“:
The Madman theory was a primary characteristic of the foreign policy conducted by U.S. President Richard Nixon. His administration, the executive branch of the federal government of the United States from 1969 to 1974, attempted to make the leaders of other countries think Nixon was mad, and that his behavior was irrational and volatile. Fearing an unpredictable American response, leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations would avoid provoking the United States.
Nixon explained the strategy to his White House Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman:
I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, “for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry””and he has his hand on the nuclear button” and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.
Whether Nixon was crazy or crazy like a fox I’ll leave to historians.
But the Tea Party has certainly left science and rationality far behind, so they allow Boehner to play thw madman card. This is likely to be effective in negotiations going forward – but at considerable expense to messaging clarity and the public perception of the Republican party. Even in this negotiation, the fact that conservatives looked like they were prepared to shut down the federal government over funding to Planned Parenthood certainly make them look bad to independents.
The Tea Party are extremists – and thankfully progressives have finally figured out that labeling them as extremists is a key winning message. Recent polling suggests the public perception of the Tea Party is dropping. Everything they do that makes it easier for people to see that they are in fact extremists will hurt them and the GOP in 2012 and beyond – though that still doesn’t mean their extremism isn’t bad news for humanity [see Why the victory of the Tea Party extremists (backed by Big Oil) over the slightly less extreme GOP establishment (also backed by Big Oil) is good for progressives, but bad for climate and clean energy].