The Deal Going Down–But Not Without Kabuki

I make a lot of derisive comments about Politico here, and for good reason. But there’s no doubt they do some things really well, like sniffing around Beltway staff sources for scoop on Beltway negotiations. So we should probably assume the VandeHei/Allen story today on the shape of a possible fiscal deal between the White House and Congress isn’t too far off the mark.

As they describe it (without a whole lot of detail, which figure; the negotiations are probably about numbers and concepts at this point), the deal sounds better than most Democrats fearful of a “cave” might have expected: a non-negotiable top marginal tax rate increase; some defense cuts in the “spending cut” mix; and relatively slender “entitlement reform” centered in Medicare with savings occurring ten years out or more.

The account includes an awful lot of “ifs” about Republican support for such a package, with the key figure appearing to be Eric Cantor. And there’s this interesting passage about another House Republican:

[Paul] Ryan, back at the Capitol after spending the fall on the road as Mitt Romney’s running mate, is said to be resisting concessions that the others consider inevitable.

Ryan, who is considering a run for president, will ultimately have to decide if he wants to be party to a deal – or if he wants to be the public leader of the resistance.

If that happens, Cantor becomes all the more important to getting a final deal through the House.

What we’re being told here, of course, is that it is so fearfully difficult for Republicans to defy the conservative activist “base” that Beohner needs to get every conceivable last-minute concession, so that Cantor can be kept on board, who in turn must keep enough of the crazy people on board to get a deal through the House. It’s a giant version of the hoary Mutt-and-Jeff negotiating strategy, and presumably a Democrat–Pelosi? Reid? Some factional leader or potential 2016er?–will emerge to play the same role of pulling the deal closer to his or her side by professing or pretending to send it to the bottom of the Tidal Basin.

In other words, the most likely scenario, despite VandeHei/Allen’s prediction of a relatively early deal, is a lot more Kabuki–and a lot more breathless insider accounts from Politico, which exists for this very kind of situation–before anything real happens. So I wouldn’t celebrate or drink hemlock (depending on your attitude about a “deal”) just yet.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.