The prospect of grand bargains

THE PROSPECT OF GRAND BARGAINS…. At face value, Democrats would appear to have the advantage in the lame-duck session. They not only have large majorities in both chambers, they’re hoping to pass several measures — the Dems’ tax-cut plan, New START, DADT repeal and troop funding — that enjoy broad national support.

And yet, it’s Republicans who are refusing to negotiate, and acting as if they have everything going their way. This was made abundantly clear again this morning when the entire Senate GOP caucus said they’ll kill literally everything on the lame-duck agenda until they’re satisfied with the outcome of the debate on tax policy.

There are, however, some reports about the possibility of a grand bargain.

The participants [at yesterday’s bipartisan discussion at the White House] emerged smiling and with a loose framework — though they did not outline it publicly — that could result in the temporary extension of all the tax cuts, as well as the ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the continuation of unemployment benefits and funding for government operations into next year.

Other reports hinted at a similar deal.

With a negotiating framework in place, lawmakers said they could begin to see the contours of a potential outcome that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts temporarily while giving Democrats some concessions on unemployment compensation, the estate tax or other tax cuts that were included in the stimulus package and will also expire this year.

“Now it is all about what Democrats can get,” said one Democratic senator who did not want to be identified talking about the prospect of the White House and Congressional Democrats conceding on extending the tax cuts for affluent Americans.

So, Republicans would get $4 trillion in tax cuts that do almost nothing to help the economy, disproportionately benefiting millionaires and billionaires, and which most of the public opposes. In exchange, Democrats would get … something. Maybe New START, maybe extended unemployment benefits, maybe some combination of sought-after agenda items.

First, it should go without saying, but if Dems are going to cave on $4 trillion in tax cuts that don’t work and Americans don’t even want, making the deficit considerably worse in the process, they should get an awful lot in return.

Second, establishing the terms of a grand bargain like this only works if Republicans believe Dems are credible negotiating partners. In other words, if GOP leaders are convinced they can get everything they want without any concessions on literally anything, they’ll simply wait for Democratic weakness.