Shutdown Blame And Obama's “Inability” To “Make Deals”

The government is still shut down owing to Republican intransigence over the Affordable Care Act, and reporters are still groping about for reasons to redistribute blame for the paralyzing gridlock away from the GOP and onto President Obama. National Journal political correspondent Beth Reinhard gets in on the fun, writing that the shutdown shows that “Obama's biggest failing has been his inability to build relationships and make deals on Capitol Hill.” To build her case, she quotes four Republicans -- Romney campaign flack Kevin Madden, lobbyist Charlie Black, pollster Vin Weber, and former Sen. Norm Coleman -- all of whom argue, in obvious good faith, that the president just hasn't done enough to accommodate Republicans.

That's a tough argument to sell, given that immediately after Obama's first inauguration congressional Republicans devised a strategy to reflexively oppose all of Obama's economic policies, and immediately after his second inauguration they agreed to boycott direct negotiations with Obama. But let's focus on one of the Republicans the National Journal cites, Charlie Black, and his complaint that Obama refused to negotiate during the 2012 “fiscal cliff” stand-off, as it highlights just how weak the “Obama can't make deals” argument is.

Here's what Black told the National Journal:

Longtime lobbyist Charlie Black noted that it was Vice President Joe Biden who reached a last-minute agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff at the start of this year.

“The president wasted 17 months, and in one weekend the old pros made a deal,” Black said. “All the president knows how to do is campaign and attack.”

It's true that McConnell and Biden ended up hammering out the final fiscal cliff compromise. Left unsaid is why the final deal was left to McConnell and Biden -- because John Boehner rebuffed Barack Obama's attempts to negotiate on taxes and threw the entire process into chaos.

Once again, here's what happened when Obama tried to negotiate leading up to the fiscal cliff. The Bush tax cuts were set to expire at the end of 2012 at the same time as some automatic spending cuts were scheduled to kick in. Obama had just won reelection in part by promising to raise taxes on individuals making over $200,000 a year. Boehner and the House Republicans, who lost seats in 2012, at first refused to allow any tax increases, but Boehner eventually indicated that he'd allow increases for people making over $1 million a year. Obama, trying to reach a compromise, broke his campaign promise and indicated to Boehner that he'd agree to a threshold of $400,000 a year. At that point, Boehner broke off negotiations and introduced a bill preserving the Bush tax cuts for everyone making less than $1 million. The bill failed to gain enough Republican support, it was pulled before it could be voted on, and Boehner recessed the House for the holidays.

That's why, according to Black, “the old pros made a deal.” They had to make a deal because Boehner refused to negotiate with Obama, who had given ground to Boehner even though he could have stood firm on a mandate from the American electorate.

Let's also take a quick moment to remember why it was that the Bush tax cuts were set to expire at the end of 2012. They had originally been scheduled to expire on January 1, 2011, but Obama brokered a deal with the Republicans in December 2010 to extend them for two more years, angering a great many Democrats and liberals.

So can we please stop pretending that the problem here is an inability on the part of Obama to make deals?