THE ART OF THE DEAL

Posted in Rants on March 19th, 2017 by Ed

It is a common negotiating tactic in any context to begin with an offer that borders on outrageous. If I expect to pay around $250,000 for your house, my first offer will be $180,000, yours will be something equally silly like $400,000, and after we haggle the price will end up right where we expect it to be.

Most people understand that in a process of negotiation, not every proposal is intended to be taken seriously. The budget recently proposed by the President shares some things in common with budget proposals from previous presidents; it has not a chance in hell of getting through Congress, as it turns out that even (or perhaps especially) Republicans love the gravy train of benefits and projects they can bring their districts. In short, the budget proposal from the White House often is kind of delusional unless one understands it for what it is – an exercise in position-taking. It's symbolic of the president's priorities and is as much an exercise in Public Relations as a serious proposal.

In that sense it isn't unique to this President to look at the proposal and declare confidently that it is DOA as even hard right Republicans are doing. What is unique, though, is that nobody in the White House seems to understand that their ludicrous proposal is indeed a ludicrous proposal. This is becoming one of the hallmarks of this surreal administration: They propose something without understanding that in our system the first proposal is not what you are actually going to get.

The belief that they can make whatever they want happen is rooted in the baffling insistence that 45 is some sort of Master Deal-Maker. In reality, he doesn't seem to understand even the basics of how a negotiation between two parties works with the ability of one of them (Him, that is) to bark out orders unilaterally. For all we know, he might not even fully understand that he can't make a budget without Congress signing off on it.

To the extent that there is any thought, strategy, or logic behind such a stupid proposal, it should be seen as a budget proposal designed to cause a shutdown. If I need to make you an offer on your house for some reason but I don't have any real desire to buy it, I can throw out the dumbest offer imaginable and declare it 100% firm and final. Perhaps – doubtful, but perhaps – someone in the Inner Sanctum sees a shutdown as the true goal and knows that Congress will oblige by making huge changes to the basic outline proposed by the White House. Then the standard "my way or nothing" response from the President will guarantee a lengthy shutdown. Incidentally, the Republicans have engineered two notable shutdowns and were wounded politically in both cases. For some reason they think shutdowns will increase their popularity, but it turns out that people tend to get pretty mad when things they depend upon stop working.

If engineering a shutdown is indeed the goal, then this budget proposal is a smart move. But something tells me that a lot of inmates running the asylum at the moment do not fully understand that this is not going to happen. To be on the safe side, if you feel the need to visit and federally funded institutions in the near future you might want to do it before May 1.