Boehner: Back to Biden, Please

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obama biden golf.jpgWhen the Republican leadership orchestrated the Eric Cantor June 23rd walkout of the debt ceiling talks, led by Joe Biden, the strategy was to up the ante by forcing President Obama to engage them. 

(official White House photo; credit: Pete Souza)

Obama offered a grand deal -- huge cuts across the board, including substantial rollbacks of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits -- but including the suspension of economically distorting tax benefits for the rich and highly profitable firms, particularly ethanol and oil, that were gorging themselves on public dollars.

David Brooks was right in stating the obvious in his provocative essay "The Mother of All No-Brainers" -- that the Republicans had won but are so paralyzed by Tea Party ideologues that they can't close the deal.  Republicans have set the terms of debate, forced the Democrats to promise a sacrifice of holy commitments to their base, and would have been able to steal back the mantle of "fiscal conservatism" after Bill Clinton became the balanced budget guy and George W. Bush blew the hole out of the economy's bottom.

Now, John Boehner is showing that he is trapped in an ideological bind with his own constituents and that Obama is too overwhelming for him.  The big deal won't work, Boehner says, because Boehner can't get his caucus to do the deal of the era because it involves minor revenue increases.  They'd rather default on the national debt and undermine global trust in the United States as a political stunt.

Boehner has now rejected the course of negotiations with the President and wants Biden back and the smaller scale, more pragmatic plan that Joe Biden had been working on with leaders of both parties before Eric Cantor decided to capsize the effort.

Boehner said in a statement:  "I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure, based on the cuts identified in the Biden-led negotiations, that still meets our call for spending reforms and cuts greater than the amount of any debt limit increase."

The Obama-Biden team is working well in these negotiations.  It's clear that they forfeited a lot of ground to the GOP in these talks -- and Obama may in fact be pulling off what Bill Clinton did with welfare reform and repositioning the Dems to forfeit much of their Great Society architecture as a way to institutionalize more access to centrist and independent voters who are skeptical of the LBJ-forged nanny state mandates.

But Obama-Biden also seem to know that the GOP is testing them as they move up and down the ladder, and now that Boehner is pining for Biden again, it shows how indispensable Joe Biden has turned out to be as a partner to Obama.

Biden also has revenue increases in his more workable, less grandiose plan.  He's not soft on the GOP -- just pragmatic.  And now the Republicans are essentially going mostly the direction with Joe Biden where Obama wanted them to go in the first place.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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