Partisanship And Dealmaking

Jon Chait shrewdly argues that the best strategy for House Republicans looking to dodge their politically toxic vote for Medicare privatization is to strike a bipartisan deficit deal with Barack Obama, which would let them reframe the House GOP budget as a constructive conversation starter. A deal like that would also serve the political interests of the White House, at the expense of the GOP presidential nominee and the hopes of House Democrats.

This kind of incentive mis-match is pretty common in American politics. Newt Gingrich struck a deal with Bill Clinton on welfare reform that helped both parties while depriving Bob Dole of an issue he wanted to use. And in a different vein, you can imagine an Alternate 2009 in which Senators Chuck Grassley, George Voinovich, and Judd Gregg perceive themselves as vulnerable to defeat in November 2010 and want to strike a deal on health care with the Obama administration. Indeed, the practical operation of the American political system normally depends on these kind of mismatches. But insofar as legislators think of themselves primarily as footsoldiers in an ideological cause who are unwilling to undercut their party’s odds of winning presidential elections, then dealmaking becomes very hard to pull off.