You Can’t Make A Deal If People Don’t Want A Deal

The new “gang of six” group negotiating a bipartisan budget deal in the Senate is falling apart with Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn pulling out. Philip Rucker and Lori Montgomery explain that Coburn’s withdrawal was prefigured by his decision to start acting more like a spoiler than a dealmaker:

Those close to the talks said trouble has been brewing for weeks. Earlier this month, the group appeared to be tantalizingly close to an agreement. But then, Democratic sources said, Coburn started bringing up new issues at every meeting, or demanding that old ones be reconsidered.

For example, Coburn began pressing for sharper cuts to Social Security than had been previously agreed to, according to sources familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the negotiations. And during a three-hour session late Monday, the sources said, Coburn demanded deep and immediate cuts to Medicare that went beyond anything previously proposed.

This is a familiar pattern in the Obama administration. Bipartisan talks begin on the Hill. They make progress. Sometimes a little progress, and sometimes a lot of progress. Then at some point during the progress-making, the conservative participants in the talks realize that they have a problem—the talks are making progress! So then they start casting around for new demands or new reasons to break off the talks. Eventually, Lucy yanks the football away and we’re back to square one.

You can critique the motives or behavior of Tom Coburn (debt) or Lindsey Graham (immigration, climate) or John McCain (Gitmo, climate) or Bob Corker (financial regulation) or Chuck Grassley (health care) on some individual deal or particular gang. But the repetition of the story strongly suggests a structural issue. A short description of the structural issue would be “Mitch McConnell doesn’t favor making bipartisan deals with the White House” and that’s why there can’t be a bipartisan health care bill or a bipartisan climate bill or a bipartisan immigration bill or a bipartisan deficit bill or a bipartisan financial regulation bill or anything else. A longer description of the structural issue would be that objectively speaking if the Republicans’ goal is to pick up Senate seats and beat Barack Obama in 2012, it’s not in their interests for the 112th Congress to resolve major national issues in a bipartisan way.