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On this site, the Monday morning quarterbacking begins before the game is over. So many commenters seem so sure of their superior ability to negotiate it's a wonder they didn't run for president themselves. So many fair weather supporters of the president seem quick to abandon ship at the first sign that he might be willing to concede some ground to the other side. So many would rather risk failure than give an inch of their preferred positions.

I have a fair amount of experience representing clients in negotiations, and a lot of experience as a mediator as well. What I always have to remind parties in negotiations is not to say no too soon. Show some flexibility and movement if you want the other side to do the same. Wait until the other side has presented what seems close to their best offer before deciding whether or not to accept it. And don't compare that offer to the ideal of what you think you are entitled to. Compare it to the alternative of no deal.

Because in the real world, we don't often get exactly what we think we are entitled to. Instead we get a choice between the deal we can get the other side to agree to, and the alternative of no deal at all. And we might have to offer to accept less than we would like just to find out what the possible deal is.

Looking objectively at the current budget negotiations between Speaker Boehner and President Obama, I don't see anything for either side's supporters to be outraged about at all. Both sides are following fairly standard negotiating tactics. Both are giving ground very slowly. At this stage, the two sides don't really seem all that far apart. And the outlines of a final deal don't seem all that unreasonable.

Everybody knows the final deal will consist of a combination of revenue increases and spending cuts. For the Republicans, the revenue increases will be too large and the spending cuts too small. For the Democrats, the opposite. But look at how much progress we have made since the stalemated budget negotiations of last year, when the Republican side would not agree to any revenue increases at all. Suddenly, the Republican side seems willing to accept tax increases of approximately equal size to spending cuts, which would have been unthinkable for them last year. And give up their attacks on Medicare. To get those concessions, the Democratic side had to show some willingness to trim slightly their demands for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, and to tinker with the cost of living formula for Social Security. This all looks like standard negotiating to me. Neither side would be getting closer to a deal, which the parties are, without showing this kind of flexibility. People are kidding themselves if they think that either side in these negotiations would bend if the other side just held firm to their initial positions. Negotiating just plain doesn't work that way. The way it works is the way we are seeing it unfold in public.

Both side's supporters should feel confident that their representatives are doing their best to obtain the best deal possible, and are using every bargaining chip and bit of power at their disposal. At the end of the negotiations, we might quibble about whether one side or the other left a little money on the table. But for now we have no reason to think anybody is getting anything other than the best deal possible for their side.

If the parties do reach a negotiated solution, nobody is going to be entirely happy with it. That's the definition of a negotiated solution. The test is whether it is better than the alternative. And critics of the negotiation process, who already hate the direction it is heading, would do well to consider the serious negative consequences of failure. Those include tax increases for nearly all Americans, layoffs for federal employees and contractors, market reversals and credit downgrades that will affect the financial condition of the entire country. And perhaps most importantly, the growing sense that this country is so polarized and dysfunctional that it can't even reach agreement on something as basic as a budget, something that should never have been so politicized in the first place.

It's a budget, and it necessarily has to reflect the spending and taxing priorities of all of us. The only way it could truly fail would be for the budget to end up making one party cheer and the other party feel that its priorities were ignored. So people should be happy if we end up with something they're not entirely happy about. The alternative is worse.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, AlexThorne
  •  I'll take no deal... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, OooSillyMe

    Over a deal that cuts Social Security.

    The current CPI is inadequate; it fails to account for the fact that seniors require a disproportionate amount of medical care and that the rising cost of that care greatly outstrips inflation.

    My 75 year old mother pays about $170 a month for her Medicare supplement and it goes up every year.  The last 2 years it has swallowed up her small SS increase almost to the penny.

    I'll take the short term pain of the fiscal cliff over the long term suffering of the elderly and vulnerable.

    And why even consider these things when the simplest, fairest fix to SS is right in front of us: eliminate the cap and make everyone pay their fair share.

    Sure, there is give and take in negotiations.  There are also lines that should not be crossed.

    "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."

    by Notthemayor on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 12:44:15 AM PST

    •  And since the current CPI... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, OooSillyMe

      Is already inadequate the chained version will be even worse.

      (Damn...hate it when I leave out a sentence.  What I wouldn't give to be able to edit comments sometimes.)

      "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."

      by Notthemayor on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 12:46:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I understand it's a bitter pill. (0+ / 0-)

      But there will be changes to Social Security and Medicare regardless of what happens in these negotiations. We either have to increase payroll taxes to support those programs, or find some ways to save money on those programs. Either way will be painful.

      And the fiscal cliff would also be painful, and for more than a short term. I have two kids going to college next year and I can't afford another hit to their college savings accounts. Federal employees and contractors are not anxious to be laid off. Most people aren't going to be happy if their withholding goes up next year. And most economists think all that would cause another recession. We don't need that.

  •  BRAVO (0+ / 0-)

    Needs to be said here. These same people were ripping him apart over Obamacare a few years ago. You would have thought he had thought he was Ronald Raegan. Now they see all that is good in it.

    Learn to take a win. Republicans vote for revenues. Republicans vote for tax increases. Republicans lift the debt ceiling for two years which allows the economy to breathe and grow. We get unemployment insurance, infrastructure spending, and permanent solution to the Doc Fix.

    We give on progressive Medicare reforms like in Obamacare, and this money stays in the trust fund anyway. We  give 13 billion a year from Social Security, which spends 700 billion plus per year, and this money stays in the trust fund anyway.

  •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

    I want to thank you for writing this. I find the vitriol directed at the President distasteful in the extreme. I also have no interest in becoming embroiled in heated argument with those who disagree with me online, as it is usually counterproductive, and useless. I will simply say I support the President, have faith in him, and know he is doing what he thinks best in the circumstances. That's why I voted for him, frankly. I am glad to see others support him still. Cheers.

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