I hope they know what they’re doing

I HOPE THEY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING…. From time to time, the Obama White House has been criticized for demonstrating poor negotiating skills. I’ve always found this criticism more than fair — the president and his team have a lot of strengths, but bargaining isn’t on the list.

With this in mind, there’s reason for some anxiety as bipartisan White House negotiations get underway, with policymakers hoping to strike a deal that will fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The fears are accentuated by the fact that we know exactly what Republicans want — brutal, job-killing spending cuts that would cause real suffering for working-class families — but we have no idea what the Democratic goals are.

Which brings us to yesterday, when White House officials, who already approved $4 billion in cuts this week, sweetened the pot for their GOP rivals, before budget discussions even got underway.

The White House proposed Thursday to trim an additional $6.5 billion from federal programs this year as Vice President Biden opened talks with congressional leaders aimed at funding the government through Sept. 30 and averting a shutdown. […]

The White House proposal falls far short of the $61 billion the House voted last month to slash from current funding levels. But senior administration officials characterized it as an opening bid in a process that is likely to stretch on for days.

Now, to look at this in a benefit-of-the-doubt sort of way, one could make a plausible argument that the White House is positioning itself as being reasonable and open to compromise. Republicans haven’t been willing to make any concessions, but President Obama and his team have now made several, first with $4 billion in cuts, and now with an offer of an additional $6.5 billion in cuts.

The point, in other words, is that no one could accuse the administration of being hard-line ideologues who refuse to make concessions. If the talks break down, these efforts make it easier for the White House to shift the blame to Republicans, and puts the onus on them to reciprocate with concessions of their own.

That’s one spin, anyway. The other way to look at this is that the White House — which would seem to have the upper hand, given how deeply unpopular GOP cuts are with voters — is already agreeing to play a game by the rules Republicans wrote.

We’re looking at negotiations in which one side has drawn a wildly unacceptable line in the sand, showing absolutely no flexibility on anything, while the other side keeps making concessions.

I’m not an expert in haggling, but this doesn’t strike me as a recipe for success.