Author Matt Bai explained that "some of Washington's most connected Democrats and Republicans" didn't know whose story to believe or what had been on the table after last summer's "grand bargain" deficit reduction negotiations between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner crumbled.
It's hard to understand how Bai and all those savvy insiders couldn't figure out how the budget talks collapsed. The New York Times reported on their demise in July. Boehner and Obama were working on a 10-year, $3 trillion deficit reduction package that included $800 billion in new revenue. Obama then piled on another $400 billion. Boehner walked. No mystery.
There's no whodunit, only a howdoweexplainit.
Boehner threw the White House off its game by reasonably agreeing to $800 billion in additional revenue through the elimination of deductions and loopholes. Oops.
When members of the Senate's "Gang of Six" -- a bipartisan posse determined to cut the national debt -- announced a proposal to raise revenue by $2 trillion, Obama talked up the gang's proposal. Bad idea. In so doing, Obama made the $800 billion Boehner deal look too puny to tax-happy Democrats. He torched a potato that already may have been too hot for the GOP Biggie to handle.
When the deal fell apart, Obama held a news conference to rail at House Republicans. "Can they say yes to anything?" said the president, with no sense of irony.
The New York Times editorialized, "Republicans killed an overly generous deal largely over a paltry $400 billion."
Bai wrote on the impossible hole into which Obama had dug himself. How could Obama ask Democratic leaders to go for a deal with $800 billion in new revenue when GOP senators applauded the Gang of Six's $2 trillion trial balloon?
There was no vote on the Gang of Six package, no bill -- only a memo, lip service and self-congratulation. That was all it took to nudge Obama off his game.
Last week, the House killed the Obama 2013 budget bill in a 414-0 vote. Not even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted for it. Spokesman Drew Hammill explained that a GOP member had put Obama budget language in his own bill to stage "a gimmick vote that the Republican leadership engineered." That is, the GOP arranged the vote to embarrass Democrats, who didn't want to vote for spending cuts or tax increases.
Last May, the Senate killed the Obama 2012 budget in a 97-0 vote.
Bai concluded that though it seems "counterintuitive," if re-elected, Obama probably could do a better job of tackling the deficit than Mitt Romney.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel was having none of it. The spending plan written by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan -- which the House passed 228-191 last week even though it presents political pain -- is, said Steel, the only "responsible budget in Washington right now."
Boehner already saw Obama walk away from a deal. If the president didn't have to worry about winning re-election, would he be more courageous or more outrageous?