Democrats Are Finally Learning How to Negotiate

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Ever since the Republicans took over the House in 2010, Congressional Democrats have been out-maneuvered in almost every way. Whether its caving on the Budget Control Act or letting Republicans squeeze out concessions on the payroll tax holiday deal, it's been a tough slog for liberals the past year-and-a-half. "Democrats will end up surrendering one way or the other," sighed a  distressed Matt Yglesias during the Super Committee battles in November. But now that's beginning to change as the Senate's top Democrat rallies his troops behind a plan to tame Republican maximalism. 

The plan, outlined to Politico last night, is to negotiate revenue or tax increases in exchange for a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. We've of course heard this one before, but this time around, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has two major bargaining chips: One is the automatic 10 percent cuts to the Pentagon and the other is the 100 percent expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Both events will go into effect at the end of this year unless Congress passes legislation, and Republicans are hell-bent on preventing that from happening. In a newly-found display of acquiring a backbone, Reid tells Politico's David Rogers he's willing to screw the Pentagon before letting Republicans get away with deficit reduction without revenue increases.

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“I am not going to back off the sequestration,” Reid said. “That’s the law we passed ...To now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense, I will not accept that." Tying the Bush tax cuts and sequestration to demands for tax increases is no doubt a savvy move and its eliciting descriptions of a "tougher Democratic mind-set." But what some call tough, others might call slow-learning. 

Endangering an opponent's priorities to negotiate your own is a pretty obvious tactic, and as Jon Stewart pointed out last summer, it was a tactic the Democrats avoided in 2010 when they extended the Bush tax cuts ahead of the debt ceiling debate. 

It didn't take a genius to realize that by extending the Bush tax cuts, the Democrats lost a lot of leverage in the debt ceiling debate. But just in case it did, the Democrats had Atlantic contributing editor Marc Ambinder to remind them:

“How do these negotiations affect negotiations or talks to Republicans about raising the debt limit because it would seem that they have significant amount of leverage over the White House now going in?" Ambinder said at a White House briefing in December of that year. He rightly predicted that Republicans wouldn't raise the debt ceiling without major cuts that Democrats weren't expecting. The President assured the press that Congress wouldn't be foolish enough to risk a financial disaster. 
 “Ha ha, it’s funny because it happened,” groaned Stewart. 
The question is now, given that that the Democrats have their plan, which seems to be making Republicans vulnerable to compromise, will they stick with it through the bargaining process? With defense contractors looking to avoid cuts, it will certainly put that newly-formed backbone to the test.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.