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February 25, 2011

Democrats Begin Preparing For Government Shutdown; GOP Buys the Bluff
Update: Rush Holds Out Hope The GOP Is Playing A New-School Game

Breaking out the barricades, which I'll explain after the excerpt:

Agencies throughout the government are scrambling to figure out how to handle a government shutdown, with a potential closure as soon as March 5 prompting a review of which activities are essential and which aren't.

Editorial Board Member Steve Moore on the prospects of a government shutdown.


Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said federal departments have been exploring issues raised by a possible shutdown, including which operations are crucial and how employee furloughs would work.

"It would be irresponsible not to have that, and so we do," Mr. Goolsbee said. "That's not in any sense like we're planning for a shutdown in a strategic way. I don't think there's going to be a shutdown."

A survey of DC GOP insiders find they are all scared by this prospect.

I know little of labor negotiations, but I do know something. I was working in a law firm when a labor lawyer (generally representing management) explained to me what his job was: His job was to negotiate while ratcheting up threats, and what he said always stuck with me. Because he was the kind of guy who sounded in control when he explained his tactics:

"We tell them of course we don't want a lock-out; that would be horrible. At the same time we start putting up barricades around the plant. When they ask 'why are you putting up barricades, are you planning a lock-out?' we say no, of course we're not planning that, that would be awful; then we start putting heavy chains around the plant doors. When they say 'why are you chaining the doors, are you planning a lock-out?,' we say no, don't worry about that, we're absolutely not planning a lock-out, that would be just awful, and then we inform our clients that supplies will be disrupted for six months. When they say 'why are you telling clients supplies will be disrupted, are you planning a lock-out?,' we say absolutely not, that is the most horrible thing we can imagine, no one wants that, and then issue a shareholder alert that profits will be down but also the cost of labor is about to fall to near-zero."

Anyway, this guy really sounded like a Hollywood negotiator tough-guy explaining this tactic. As far as I can tell, the idea is to keep saying there will be no lock-out while taking every conceivable action to bring about a lock-out; this convinces the opposition you're verbally lying but telling the truth with your actions, which scares them, and fixes their mind on six months without a paycheck, and brings them to the table in a more conciliatory mood.

Now, this guy was like 30 at the most so I doubt very much he's the only guy in the world who knows about this tactic. I'd say he's probably one of one hundred thousand, and I'm pretty sure that all of Obama's labor negotiation buddies have hipped him to the tactic.

I can't help noticing that that's exactly what Obama is doing. And that the GOP is falling for it.

I say falling for it because the party that wins this showdown is the party which convinces the other party that they're less afraid of a shut-down. Now, that doesn't actually have to be true -- the guy who explained this to me was using this tactic to conceal how very afraid of a lock-out he was -- but the winner will be the party that can convince the other that they are willing to bring things to a standstill.

The GOP isn't even showing up for this showdown. Obama's running a textbook, if old, game on them and meanwhile they are confessing, "Yes, we're really afraid of a shutdown and think it will destroy the party." They are taking no efforts at public education or positioning; they are doing nothing to place blame for the shutdown on Obama.

Ergo, they plan to fold, and ergo, they of course have no negotiating position whatsoever and will wind up caving in to whatever Obama wants. Oh, Obama will toss them $5 billion in cuts to make it "look good." And also to make Obama look a little better; he wants credit for cutting spending, even if it's a trivial amount; by doing this, he will enlist the whole GOP in defending the ridiculously trivial $5 billion in cuts as "substantial" which will help him with moderates while utterly alienating the base.

Cute, huh? Obama's about to force an awful deal on the GOP and have them sell it to the independents and base as not a cave-in but a "good start."

I don't get the Stupid Party sometimes. I know about this and my only experience with labor negotiations was spending 20 minutes with a young lawyer who just felt like showing off a little to an even younger one.

We're deathly afraid of the lock-out and we have no plan whatsoever to even conceal this fact.

Terrific.

Now, maybe that's not fair, because Boehner says he does have a plan:

Once the House passes this short-term CR near the beginning of next week, House Republicans will be able to say they’ve passed a seven-month CR, and a two-week CR, either of which would keep government open. The pressure should be on Senate Democrats and the administration to accept the short-term CR or come up with a reasonable alternative to avert a government shutdown. Even liberal media are going to have a hard time blaming Republicans if Senate Democrats and/or the Obama administration drop the ball.

That's all well and good but it does not work unless you convince your opposite number you are willing to actually pull the trigger on a shut-down. Boehner hasn't convinced anyone of that. Even his plan, bragged on to William Kristol, is all about avoiding the horror of a shutdown.

Show your cards much?

Is It Possible The GOP Is Being Smart? Buzzion reports that Rush has a different take:

Rush was just talking about this. And how during the 1994 shutdown it was the Republicans that were basically agitating for a government shutdown. This time around its pretty much the democrats pushing for one.

So maybe that is the tactic the Republicans are taking, though maybe not perfectly. "We don't want to shut down the government, we're trying to keep it open, but Obama and the Democrats are stonewalling our efforts."

Okay there's some truth in that kind of positioning -- but I still don't see how you can win on the point unless you convince the other side you are willing to play the brinksmanship game.

Goolsbee's playing it. He's preparing, more in sorrow than anger, for the shutdown.

It's possible that the game Goolsbee is playing is old (Hell, it was old when I heard it), and the GOP is playing a new-style game which is better.

But I still do not see how you prevail in a negotiation without, in the end, being able to walk away from the table with no deal in place.

The party in a negotiation willing to do that (or at least which has convinced the other party they're willing to do that) always winds up winning the negotiation.

It seems to me that convincing the other side you are weak when in fact you actually are willing to walk away from the table substantially increases the chances of a shutdown, as the other party will misread its own strength and assume they can walk away themselves. And I don't believe the GOP is actually trying to shut down the government; so why would they send confusing signals like that?

Gingrich: If Stopping Obama From Spending Us Into Our Fiscal Graves Requires A Shut-Down, So Be It: This, on the other hand, is more what I'm sayzzin'.

It was President Bill Clinton's veto of our budget in December 1995 that closed the government. The White House knew that it could use the power of the presidency and the support of liberal media to blame us.

So, we faced a choice. We could cave in and be accepted by the Washington establishment, or we could stand firm for a balanced budget for the American people.

We decided to stick to our principles through a very contentious and difficult period. Our attempt to balance the federal budget was distorted in the news media as an effort to ruin family vacations, frustrate visitors to the nation's capital and prevent government employees from going to work. For the Republican leadership, the effort to hold together the House and Senate caucuses while negotiating with the White House became extraordinarily exhausting.

Nonetheless, the ultimate result was the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s, paying off more than $450 billion in federal debt.....

Those who claim that the shutdown was politically disastrous for Republicans ignore the fact that our House seat losses in 1996 were in the single digits....

Neither these historic achievements nor this historic win would have been possible had Republicans not stood firm and showed the country that we were serious about keeping our commitments.

The lesson for today's House Republicans is simple: Work to keep the government open, unless it requires breaking your word to the American people and giving up your principles. Becoming one more promise-breaking, Washington-dominated, sellout group is a much worse fate - politically and ethically - than having the government close for a few days.

Commenters have pointed out that our losses in the House in 1996 were tiny. I rebutted that that is largely because the GOP actually caved; that is, the political damage that was done to them during the shut-down was mostly healed up (by the act of caving) by election time.

But that makes no matter: Gingrich's statement, while perhaps misleading, is very useful. We must certainly act as if we believe losses from a shutdown will be trivial and acceptable. We cannot act as if we're a bunch of chickenshits afraid to lose even a few seats from our supermajority.

Maybe we talk about how awful this will be for us behind closed doors. Fine, if it stays behind closed doors. Publicly, this is a matter of principle and we're willing to take the hit to the save the Republic.



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posted by Ace at 01:11 PM

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