Fiscal Cliff

Bob Woodward on Fiscal Cliff: Pols Need to Kick Own Asses, Delegate Everything Else

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Here's the Washington Post's venerable Bob Woodward, jabbering on about what went wrong with the fiscal cliff negotiations. Woodward starts his analysis by noting, not incorrectly that "the agreement on the "fiscal cliff" left the nation's major economic problems — its federal deficit and debt, high unemployment and low growth — on the negotiating-room floor."

Of course, it's as accurate to say that at least the past three-going-on-four years has been one big clusterfudge when it comes to any and all matters related to budgeting, especially all the years in which the Senate Democrats have not even been able to produce a budget plan for public view, much less passage in the world's greatest deliberative body.

But in any case, Woodward reminds us how the fiscal cliff was partly created by the threat of sequestration, which was itself the product of an earlier failed set of negotiations over the debt ceiling in 2011. The debt-ceiling deal in August 2011 begat a "supercommittee" of legislative all-stars that was about as inspiring as the sad, old Justice Society of America. I mean, come on, the supercommittee was far heavier on Dr. Mid-Nites and Liberty Belles than it was on the Supermans and Wonder Womans of the world.

The supercommittee was charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years. To guarantee its success, Congress and Obama agreed on $110 billion in mandatory spending cuts that would take effect Jan. 1, 2013, if the supercommittee failed — cuts so odious that the supercommittee would not allow itself to fail. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and minority leader McConnell were fully on board with the plan. "The supercommittee is going to work," Boehner told me in an interview last year. "I've got Reid's and McConnell's commitments." It was a sure thing, they all agreed….

Let's pause to remind ourselves of just how "odious" it is to cut $110 billion from an annual budget that has been clocking in at somewhere north fo $3.5 trillion. The answer: not very odious at all as a matter of what Obama once called "arithmetic." Cutting $110 billion, including about $55 billion from defense spending, is a rounding error in a federal budget that has grown massively over the past dozen years.

Back to Woodward. He notes that high-level staffers of supercommittee members put together a bargain that would have forestalled sequestration but then overreached. Like Seinfeld's George Costanza, who once tragically tried to merge eating deli sandwiches with sex, this ragtag crew of dreamers flew too close the sun on wings of pastrami or something:

…five staffers struggled for a week. In my files is a one-page, typed document dated Oct. 23, 2011, showing that they essentially reached agreement. The Republicans had a total deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion and the Democrats had $1.24 trillion — a difference of $40 billion, not much.

Some staffers were ready to break out the champagne. They had a pipeline straight to the leadership in both parties. But the members of the supercommittee did not trust each other. Instead of adopting the staff agreement or a version of it, they decided to go big and craft a deficit-reduction package of up to $3 trillion. They were shooting for a "grand bargain."

The record shows they overreached: The mandatory cuts of $110 billion were not forestalled; the Biden-McConnell agreement has postponed them, but only for two months.

Woodward says the real problem was that staffers were never "empowered" by the leadership they represented to actually hash out a real deal and that they should have been. To him, high level meetings between Obama and Boehner or other muckety-mucks just create more grief than solutions. If you're wondering what the hell Woodward is talking about, it gets worse: He ends his vague article (hey, what was in the deficit reduction plan, Bob?) with a non sequitur about how Reagan reacted after hiking taxes up the ying-yang in 1982:

Reagan White House aides told me at the time how the president responded when asked how a renowned tax-cutter such as himself could approve a tax increase.

Darn, Reagan said, did we do that? He then pivoted and rather elegantly picked up one of his feet and kicked himself in the rear. Everyone laughed.

Both Democrats and Republicans need to circumvent the vulture politics of the day that demonizes the opposition. Obama and Boehner need to create a climate in which all involved can adopt the stylish accommodation of Ronald Reagan, pivot elegantly, kick themselves in the rear end and declare, Darn, did we do that?

Read the whole thing.

In sort-of documenting the dysfunction of a government that can't even trim chump change from its petty cash drawer, much less write and pass a goddamned budget, Woodward manages to also illustrate why press solons are pretty useless in this whole process too. Sequestration cuts aren't odious, except to congenital pants-wetters on both sides of the aisle (such as the neo-con defense hawks at the American Enterprise Institute and Leon Panetta, who can't abide a single dollar ever being cut from any military budget, even after the Second Coming of Christ and the beating of swords into non-voting GM shares). We've been racking up trillion-dollar annual deficits for years now, and the idea of cutting $3 trillion from future deficits over a 10-year period causes things to explode? That shouldn't be a reach under any circumstances, but especially under one in which both parties agree that we need to stop spending money we don't have on things we don't need. If the leadership of both parties couldn't agree to $3 trillion in deficit trims over a decade in which they expect to spend between $40 trillion and $47 trillion, they weren't going to agree to cuts of $1.2 trillion anyway. That's the the real story, and it's one that need to be retold every single day.

Woodward's invocation of today's "vulture politics" and his by-comparison invocation of the good old Reagan days is ridiculously ahistorical, especially coming from one of the guys who presided over the past 40-plus years of American history. Today's political situation isn't unique in its "demonization" of the opposition. Jesus Christ, George McGovern likened Nixon to Hitler and Reagan was attacked in similar terms. As was Clinton (by Jerry Falwell, who credited the Man from Hope with multiple murders in Arkansas). And then there was also the Bushitler stuff and novels and faux-documentaries about Dubya's assassination. Somehow, both sides somehow managed to pass budgets (as awful as they were). The fact that Boehner takes a lot of man-tan heat and Obama is called a socialist is light fare by comparison. What is different is the inability of our top men to freaking complete the most basic tasks required of them: to hash out what they government is going to spend each year according to basic and simple-to-understand legislative rule.

In the end, that is not something mystical or overly complicated or tough because they belong to different parties. It's the easiest thing in the world to get done and while of course "staffers" will do most of the grunt work, Boehner and Obama—and Harry Reid, the hugely incompetent Senate leader who is arguably the single-most responsbile villain in the whole dramedy, need to be running the show.

And when it comes to kicking their own asses, our triumvirate of leaders—Obama, Boehner, and Reid—should get in line behind the rest of us. In the end, we pay their tab, so we should be at the front of the line.

NEXT: Boehner Received Only 94.8 Percent Support From His Party

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  1. Nice alt+text, Gillespie.

    1. Jacket! Always address the Jacket!

  2. When wifey told me how happy she was that only folks making $450,000+ were getting tax increases, I once again, had to explain to her that there are 2 realities. The one reported in the MSM, and the ones that the rest of us have to live in. This morning, I emailed her this link to elaborate:

    Enjoy paying your fair share, you filthy rich bastards!

    1. But payroll taxes don’t count because they are just going into a fund for you. And in return you can go to a website and print out a little piece of paper that shows you how your fund will theoretically be worth at some arbitrary time in the future. Maybe they’ll even let you have some of it when you retire.

      1. ENTITLEMENT. I’m ENTITLED to it.

        EN. TITLED.

      2. I kind of wish they just kept the payroll tax cut low. The sooner Social Security goes bankrupt, the better.

        I’d like to think that would be a nice wake up call to the population of how bad statist ideas can be. Of course, the reaction will more likely be “NEEDZ MOAR GUBMINT!”

  3. Hey Nick, your Justice Supercommittee of America link (second link in the article) doesn’t go anywhere interesting, just one of those Reason error pages.

    1. I think there is an illegal character in the URL string.

      1. Illegal? CALL IN THE DRONES!

        1. We have to save the drones for Murikans that try to escape from paying their fair share, you know, the real terrorists.

  4. You might want to check that second hyperlink, Nick (“…the sad, old Justice Society of America…”) Kind of looks like something got dropped in there. (But then, maybe that’s the joke…)

    1. i.e., the link seems to have the following text embedded:

      five staffers struggled for a week. In my files is a one-page, typed document dated Oct. 23, 2011, showing that they essentially reached agreement. The Republicans had a total deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion and the Democrats had $1.24 trillion – 80% a difference of $40 billion, not much. Some staffers were ready to break out the champagne. They had a pipeline straight to the leadership in both parties. But the members of the supercommittee did not trust each other. Instead of adopting the staff agreement or a version of it, they decided to go big and craft a deficit-reduction package of up to $3 trillion. They were shooting for a “grand bargain.” The record shows they overreached: The mandatory cuts of $110 billion were not forestalled; the Biden-McConnell agreement has postponed them, but only for two months

      1. Ah, there we go. Looks like an an inadvertent copy-pasta from your quote later on in the post.

      2. Now who’s sad and old, eh, Jacket-Man? The JSA won the 2nd World War with the likes of Liberty Belle and Dr. Mid-nite. What have you modern anti-heroes accomplished — can’t even get a link right! There’s a reason they call it the Golden Age, pal!

  5. I’m starting to suspect that Woodward, post-Watergate, is a fraud. So many of his stories reference “documents” whose content he never reveals in detail, interviews with people now dead, etc.

    And, second, one way to cut spending would be to fire a bunch of high-level staffers. Get rid of all the leeches in congressional offices.

    1. I don’t know what planet you are from, but on this one government jobs are jobs for life. No one gets fired. No one.

      1. Yeah, I know. For a moment there I drifted into a fantasy world of logic & reality.

        1. Every now and again I have to visit a federal office building for my work, and I noticed that some of them greet each other with this odd gesture that involves holding up a number of fingers.
          I finally figured it out. They are/were what’s called ‘short timers’, and the fingers represent how many years before they get their pension.
          Some aren’t even fifty years old and they’re about to retire with a paycheck for life.
          It’s sickening.

          1. If it makes you feel any better, when I worked for Medicare I had a secretary who supported 4-5 people who couldn’t type.

          2. You know, I didn;t even do that when I was three days from retirement. But then my pension is a pittance compared to what I hear government workers get.

          3. Do you hold up a finger as well?

      2. Everyone should know that, especially someone that is Really close to DC, like I dunno, Baltimore?

        1. Maybe; except I’m out on the Great Plains.

          1. They have Ravens out there?

              1. I liked that show until the end. Talk about a lame conclusion.

                1. Yeah. But Sci-fi pulled the plug late IIRC & they needed to wrap it up. But still, the image of all four of the main characters driving off into the sunset was kind of weak.

              2. Probably, I’m not a bird watcher

                Me either, but when you live in Balmer, Ravens don’t have anything to do with birds.

              3. Mmmmm Traci Lords.

      3. Oh, you can get fired. Certain conditions just have to be met first.

        1. You cannot be in a union.
        2. A great deal of documentation must have been collected regarding your poor performance and management’s honest attempts to help you correct that performance.
        3. Every manager at every level above you has to hate you enough to be willing to go through the arduous process of firing you rather than simply moving you to a different position.

        If all three of these conditions are met, you have a small chance of being fired in 12 to 24 months.

        1. And here is the depressing part. Getting rid of those protections and allowing people to be fired would only make it worse. The power to fire is only good if you have management who knows how to use it. And government doesn’t have that.

          1. Too true. When profit is no motive, the power to fire is only used to eliminate the competition.

            Our only hope to shrink the federal workforce is to stop hiring new people and let attrition handle it.

            1. That is the only hope. You have to remember that most of government management is completely incompetent. If they could fire people, they would immediately fire any competent person so there was no danger of anyone making them look bad.

              1. incompetent management, lack of promotion potential. I lasted about 3 years before I quit.

                It’s a shame. There were (and are) some very smart and hardworking people in my old office, who have to cut through the deadwood to get anything, even the simplest of tasks, completed.

            2. Our only hope to shrink the federal workforce is to stop hiring new people

              Somehow, I don’t think that is in the plans for the current administration.

    2. I thought he gets all his info spoonfed from the CIA?

    3. Woodward circa Watergate was a fraud. Him and Woodward didn’t crack the Watergate case, the Congress did. The idea that they did is just bullshit put out by that stupid movie.

      1. I mean him and Bernstein did not crack the watergate case.

        1. Wasn’t Leonard Bernstein busy conducting the Boston Pops back then?

          Oh, no – that was Arthur Fiedler. Bernstein used his time freed up from conducting the NYPhil to freelance as an investigative journalist.

          And what a run he had!

          /ahistorical

          1. That was Fiedler. Berstein was a New York guy all the way.

  6. I don’t know if this made the morning links, but Instapundit points to this DU poster shocked discover his taxes have gone up. But only Republicans, rednecks and the evil coproashuns were supposed to have their taxes raised. Suck it dipshit.

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/10022125273

    1. That is fucking awesome. I needed some schadenfreude.

      Thanks, John!

      1. Too bad we get to share the pain.

        Starve the beast!

    2. That’s hilarious.

      “I want more government.”

      “OK, here you go. We took more money out of your paycheck, by the way.”

      “What?!! But I don’t want to pay for it myself! That’s UNFAAIIIRRRRRRR!!”

    3. The comments…

      And by the way, that is not a tax increase, it is finally allowing a temporary bu$h tax cut to expire.

      Too bad that cut was actually instituted by ALLAH HUSSEIN OBAMA.

      1. Yeah. HE is bitching about the FICA tax holiday. But don’t let your bourgeois facts get in the way of the revolutionary truth.

    4. Bwahaahhaaaaa!

      Suck it up, you fatcats, pay your fair share!

      And here, I thought that only the Limeys were reporting the real news from Murika.

  7. Thanks, Nick, for reading Bob Woodward so I don’t have to. But, naturally, I think you’re both wrong. It’s stupid to expect Congress to make tough decisions when they don’t have to, because Congress would be stupid to make tough decisions when they don’t have to. Bruce Bartlett says

    Historically, what has moved Congress to enact big deficit-reduction packages was the prospect of quick improvement in terms of inflation, growth and interest rates. Given that deficit reduction today is very unlikely to improve any of these in the near term, deficit hawks lack any real payoff from a grand bargain.

    I say in my blog

    in 1991 George Bush I made a tough decision, agreeing to a package of spending cuts and tax increases. Result: George lost in 1992. In 1993, Democrats in Congress voted for a similar package. Result: They lost in ’94. In 2000, George II made some tough decisions. Result: Republicans got clobbered in 2000. In 2001, the Democrats made some tough decisions. Result: They got clobbered in 2002. The moral is, don’t make any tough decisions.

    For the past four years, Reason has been saying that the sky is falling. It hasn’t. When the sky falls, Congress will fix it, maybe. But not until then. So do yourself a favor: Kick back, light up a doobie, and watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island. It’s a lot more productive than either reading Bob Woodward or lecturing Congress on its evil ways

    1. In 2000, George II made some tough decisions. Result: Republicans got clobbered in 2000.

      Ah George II didn’t take office until January 2001. The tough decisions me made in 2000 had to do with what ad buys to make and how to beat first John McCain and then Al Gore.

      In 2001, the Democrats made some tough decisions. Result: They got clobbered in 2002.

      The Democrats didn’t own the House or the White House and had a tenuous grip on the Senate in 01. So just what touch decisions did they make? And maybe you missed it but they got clobbered in 2002 because of this even known as 9-11. It made the papers for a few days.

      Jesus Christ Venneman, that is stupid even for you.

      1. Terrible typos. Thanks, dude. Drinking and typing don’t mix.

    2. For the past four years, Reason has been saying that the sky is falling. It hasn’t

      That doesn’t mean it isn’t falling. Something doesn’t have to crash before people can point out that it’s falling.

  8. Seems logical to me dude. Wow.

    http://www.AnonVPN.tk

  9. Clusterfudge? No. That shit is firmly packed up our asses by the deal.

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