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Eric Cantor Takes Bargaining Positions Out of Context, Poisoning The Atmosphere Of Future Negotiations

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"Eric Cantor Takes Bargaining Positions Out of Context, Poisoning The Atmosphere Of Future Negotiations"

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The cardinal principle of grand bargaining is that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.” In other words, if you’re going to have a balanced agreement in which Democrats agree to do some things Republicans want in exchange for Republicans agreeing to do things Democrats want, you need to be able to talk about those “things” in a conditional way. For example, I would be willing to index Social Security benefits to the Chained CPI (a small benefit cut) if we also indexed tax brackets to the Chained CPI (a modest tax increase). But that doesn’t mean I’ve “agreed” to index Social Security benefits to the Chained CPI. It’s a bargaining chip.

Eric Cantor who, despite some appearance to the contrary, isn’t too stupid to understand this has decided to pretend not to understand it. In an earlier phase of negotiations headed by Joe Biden, the White House was prepared to entertain almost $2 trillion in cuts in exchange for Republicans agreeing to some tax increases. But Republicans rejected that, because they reject tax increases. Then later, President Obama tried to up the ante by suggesting $4 trillion in deficit reduction, again balanced between spending cuts and tax increases. But Republicans rejected that, because they reject tax increases. Now Cantor has put together a slide show based on the false premise that a bipartisan “Biden Framework” existed to do the almost $2 trillion in cuts. And his proposal is that instead of doing the $4 trillion in deficit reduction, they just implement the made-up framework.

The whole thing strikes me as laughable. But I do think it’s important to appreciate that this kind of partial leaking of the contents of negotiations has the tendency to poison the atmosphere. The whole reason that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to” is that to reach a bargain you need to have a pretty open and flexible discussion. If everyone in the room knows that Cantor has no compunction about misrepresenting every discussion as an agreement, it merely makes it that much harder for people to negotiate in a serious way.

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