Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Perry Candidacy: How Late is Too Late?

With all signs indicating that Texas Governor Rick Perry is about ready to throw his hat in the ring,  national polls already place him near the top of the Republican field (see here  and here ) along with Romney, Palin and Bachmann.  As many of you have heard me say for several weeks now, if Perry enters the race, he is in my view the strongest Republican candidate – one who, in contrast to the media-created boomlets regarding the candidacies of Jon Huntsman and perhaps Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, has the record and stature to beat President Obama.

But will he enter the race?  Already he has missed getting on the ballot for the overhyped- Iowa straw poll, to be held next month.   Rumors now indicate a late August start date for Perry’s official announcement.  Perry, so far, is playing coy. With most of the other Republican candidates (all except the Moosemeister herself, and Rudy Guliani) already officially in the race for several months now, how long can Perry wait?  If we look at the average announcement times of presidential candidates going back to 1948, we see that, historically speaking, Perry appears to have no need to rush a formal announcement. The following table shows how long before their party’s conventions, on average, the major presidential candidates formally announced their candidacy for each election back to 1952.  .

Year Democrats Republicans









































Across 15 presidential campaigns, the “average” presidential candidate during this period makes their announcement about 314 days before the start of their party’s convention.  Based on this, Perry has plenty of time; the Republican national convention doesn’t start until August 27, 2012 – about 390 days from now.

But this average masks wide variation both within years, and across elections.  First, if we show the data graphically, it’s clear that presidential campaigns began growing increasingly longer with the switch during 1972-76, from a party-dominated caucus-based nomination system to today’s primary-based, media-driven system.

Moreover, the three most recent elections (combining both parties) have seen the earliest average announcements yet (along with 1988).

In 2008, the average Democrat announced their candidacy 625 days before the Democratic Convention – the average Republican 534 days in advance. Both were records for earliest announcements in the post- 1948 campaign era. (Thanks to Anna Esten, Sarah Pfander and Owen Witek for locating the announcement data for 2000, 2004 and 2008). By these standards, Perry (and Palin and Guiliani, if they decide to run) are rather late to get in the race. Still, when John Kerry won the Democratic nomination in 2004, he didn’t formally announce until a scant 329 days before his party’s convention.  So there is historical precedent for waiting several more months.   But Kerry’s announce date is an anomaly in the post-reform nominating era.   In recent elections most candidates jump in – as was the case this year – closer to a year and a half before the nominating conventions.   By this standard, Perry is getting a late start.

Keep in mind, however, that in making a presidential run, the formal announcement is the icing on the cake – what really matters is how much preparation the candidate is doing in the run up to formally announcing their bid. If media reports are accurate, Perry is already putting together a fundraising infrastructure and is courting party leaders and activists in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Both Guiliani and Palin possess the benefit of having run national campaigns before and both have national name recognition, so the pressure on them to announce early is much less.  Perry, on the other hand, has less name recognition, and has never run a national campaign.  For these reasons, I expect him to announce sooner – by the end of August at the latest.  That would put him within a year of the Republican convention – still plenty of time to mount a serious challenge for the Republican nomination. When he does announce, it will leave only Palin and Guiliani on the sidelines as likely Republican candidates. Of the two, I think Palin has the most leeway in terms of waiting – indeed, the longer she waits, the more the anticipation builds, at least to a point.  Guiliani, on the other hand, probably needs to jump in earlier than Palin.

Let the games begin!

Live Blogging The President’s Speech

OK, technology permitting – we will be live blogging the President’s speech.  As  always, comments welcome.

We’ll  be watching on the local  PBS affiliate.

He begins with the family analogy.  For once, I’d like a politician to say, “Guess what – this is the government.  It’s nothing like your family!”

Hmmm – there are two options:  my reasonable bipartisan way, and then there’s the other way.

A cuts only approach – notably, the Reid plan does not include any revenue increases, as far as I can tell.

I’m  not sure the corporate jet/oil company versus ailing grandmother symbolism has much punch these days.   The debate has become so polarized that I think independents are going to tune this rhetoric out.

Interesting use of previous Republican figures to push the “balanced” approach – think he’ll cite his vote as a Senator against raising the debt ceiling?  didn’t think so.

So,  who do you think this speech is targeting?  Independents?

This part of the speech, I think, is more effective  – a reasonable argument (even if somewhat disingenuous) against the Boehner two-step plan.

Let’s see if he gives a veto threat.


This is a surprisingly unsurprising speech – as expected, he is trying both to position himself above the fray while injecting himself subtly into the fray by pushing – but not too hard! – for the Reid plan.

Ah, a direct appeal to the people to pressure their member of Congress.  Most research suggests these appeals aren’t particularly effective at changing minds in Congress.

Am I reading the Reid plan wrong – does it actually raise revenues? I didn’t think so, but I may be wrong.

In any case, Obama finishes with the appeal  to our better angels, citing the Framers, history of compromise, etc.  God Bless America!

Let’s see what Boehner has to say in reply.

OW!  What’s with the green tie!

Why is it always a small business?  Why can’t someone come on and say they once headed a Fortune 500 conglomerate?  I’d be more impressed.

Boehner doesn’t seem any more interested in looking forward  than did Obama – both sides are pointing fingers and rehashing the budget talk breakdown.

How does Boehner define “bipartisanship”?  How many Democratic votes did CCB actually get?  Five votes?  And what constitutes the “bipartisanship” leadership of the Senate that has signed onto the House bill?  One Democratic interested in discussing the House bill?

Well, that was quick!

I have to think these speeches will have absolutely no impact on public opinion.  But they are a reminder that,publicly, the two sides are very very far apart.  Whether they are any closer behind the scenes I can’t tell.  But they aren’t signaling any give on either side.

They stared into the camera, and neither one blinked.

Stay tuned… .






Boehner to the President: Do You Two-Step?

With the August 2 default deadline a week away, President Obama will go on national television tonight, against the backdrop of dueling partisan plans to solve the debt impasse.  Presumably Obama will try to position himself above the political fray but will also, at least implicitly, make the case for supporting the Senate plan unveiled last night by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  The Reid plan would pair an increase in the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion through the 2012 election with a proposed $2.7 trillion cut in discretionary spending across the next ten years.  The plan is controversial, however, because it includes a trillion dollars in proposed “savings” from winding down the U.S. military involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Critics contend that savings from a reduced U.S. involvement in these wars will occur whether the Reid plan is passed or not, so this does not actually constitute additional budgetary reductions.  (This is the exact criticism Democrats leveled at the Paul Ryan budget plan, which included a similar accounting gimmick.  But now the shoe is on the other political foot.) Another $40 billion would come from reducing “waste, fraud, and abuse” – a perennial congressional scapegoat. In addition, the Reid bill would include $100 billion in mandatory program savings, including $30 billion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac changes, and additional cuts in agricultural subsidies.  Interest savings from cutting projected spending would produce another $400 billion.

The key element of the plan, almost certainly inserted at the President’s request, was an increase in the debt ceiling past the 2012 election. And this sets up dueling votes with the House Republican plan, which centers on a two-step process.  In step one, an immediate $1 trillion raise in the debt ceiling would be paired with legislation that would cut discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. However, the increase in the debt ceiling would only extend to early 2012.  A second increase in the debt borrowing ceiling would be linked to agreement on an additional $1.8 trillion in spending cuts.

To identify the additional $1.8 trillion in cuts, the Republican House bill would create a bipartisan joint House-Senate committee to report back to Congress by November 23.  Significantly, the committee’s deficit savings could be achieved either through spending cuts or tax increases, or a combination of both — whatever a majority of the committee and, eventually, the House and Senate will support. After the majority of the committee provides its recommendations to Congress, both chambers would be required to hold an up or down vote, without amendments or threat of a filibuster – by Dec. 23. (The Reid plan has a similar proposal to create a bipartisan budget cutting committee in the Senate, whose recommendations would get a guaranteed up-or-down vote in that chamber.) If the committee’s recommendation is shot down, however, there would be reprise of the current debt ceiling impasse, but this time in the heart of an election year – something the President wants to avoid.

To mollify conservative House supporters of the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation, the Republicans would hold a separate House vote on a balanced budget proposal.  The House bill also includes caps on discretionary spending in future years.

Note that neither plan is very specific about where the cuts in discretionary spending will occur, but presumably they are targeting the same areas identified in the “grand bargain”, so in theory there is room for compromise between House and Senate in terms of what will be cut. Neither plan includes tax increases, although there is room for that in the second stage of the House plan.  The major difference between the two is whether to adopt a two-step process or a single extension past 2012.  Both sides claim the credit markets will oppose the other sides’ approach.

Note that both plans face severe obstacles, and carry heavy political risks.  The House bill is more likely to pass its parent chamber.  It still must be granted a Rule by the House Rules committee, but assuming that passes it could come up for a vote on Wednesday, where I expect it to pass the House on largely partisan lines, despite grumbling from conservatives who strongly support a balanced budget amendment, and who likely don’t’ want to raise the debt ceiling without deeper spending cuts.  Boehner’s strategy is clear: by proposing the House bill as an alternative to Reid’s, he hopes to provide political cover to Senate Republicans to vote down the Senate bill. Note that Reid’s bill will face a potential filibuster threat and so will need to muster 60 votes to get through the Senate.

And that’s where the President comes in: his goal tonight is to put public pressure on Senate Republicans to back the Reid bill. However, I expect him to play the centrist, mediator-in-chief role to the hilt, by trying to position himself above the political fray and instead emphasizing the need to compromise. His speech will be followed by a Republican rebuttal by Boehner himself.  I’ll be live blogging, technology allowed.

As always, I encourage you to join in.

The Art of the Deal, Part II: The Sun Will Rise, the Sun Will Set, and I’ll Have Lunch

Both sides of the debt debate fanned out today to make their case on various Sunday talk shows.  Obama’s negotiators – chief of staff Bill Daley and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were on Chris “I’m No Flake” Wallace’s Fox show and Meet the Press, respectively.  House Speaker Boehner followed Daley on Fox.  Based on what they said, it appears that the debt negotiation scenario I laid out in the last two posts is essentially accurate (as far as one can tell from public comments, which may not be very much.)  Both sides told essentially the same story, albeit with a different spin on why the talks broke down: the sticking point was Boehner’s refusal to consider the additional revenue request the Obama team felt compelled to make in order to placate Senate Democrats after the Gang of Six released their separate deficit reduction plan.

Despite all the media handwringing about a dysfunctional government, the pundits’ fingerpointing and the predictions of impending financial disaster, the key point I took out of today’s talk is that everything is still on the table, including the “grand bargain” initially agreed to, at least in principle, last Tuesday.  Indeed, reading between the lines (always a risky proposition!), it appeared that Obama’s negotiators were signaling their desire to pick right up where the talks stopped on Friday, as if the walkout never happened. They sound almost apologetic for making the additional revenue request.

At this point, however, Boehner holds the stronger cards, and it’s his turn to play.  He has a couple of options.  One is to invite the President back to the table, with the proviso that Obama understand that the additional $400 billion in revenue he requested will not pass the Republican caucus.  It’s a non-negotiable point.  The second is to proceed to direct negotiations with the Senate Democrats on a two-step plan.  Step one would be to raise the debt ceiling for a short time, say, 6 months, paired with an initial cut in spending already agreed to by Democrats.  Significant entitlement reform would be off the table.  Step two would then entail a reconsideration of the “grand bargain” sometime in 2012 – an election year.

As Daley indicated today, the President is adamantly opposed to the two-step plan.  He wants a debt limit agreement that will extend into 2013, past the next election.  Interestingly, however, while Daley walked up to the point of a veto threat, my read of his wording is that he stopped short of actually promising Obama would veto any two-step plan.  If I’m right, this tells me two things:  Obama needs an agreement more than the Tea Party Republicans do.  His preference remains for a grand bargain that secures entitlement reform, which he can then run on in 2012.  But if all he can get is a more limited two-step plan, it would be very difficult for him to veto it, Daley’s bluster to the contrary notwithstanding.

Where do we go from here?  My guess is Boehner works both tracks: he keeps communications open with Obama regarding resuscitating a version of the grand bargain, and he negotiates with Senate Democrats regarding a more limited two-step option.  The fallback option, if he can’t get Senate Democrats to play, is for the House to pass still another Republican-backed plan modeled after Cut, Cap and Balance – but perhaps without the balanced amendment provision – and dare Democrats to vote it down.

As we watch this unfold today, I want you to consider several points that I think the media is underplaying.

1. First, Obama and Boehner both made incredibly risky – some might say statesmanlike – gambles in negotiating the framework of the grand bargain. Keep in mind that Obama had apparently signed on to the framework of a plan that cut spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – a decision that was assailed immediately by all the key Democratic interest groups: MoveOn,  AARP, major labor unions, etc.   Boehner, for his part, agreed to a tax increase (although he refused to call it that) of some $800 billion, achieved through reform of the tax code, and some perhaps overly rosy economic growth projections.  Still, if it walks and quacks like a tax hike…. .   There is no guarantee either player could get these deals through their respective party caucuses.   While the media squawks about the lack of leadership in Washington, Boehner and Obama were showing extraordinary leadership.

2. The media tends to portray the debt struggles as a political game in which party leaders fiddle while the nation burns.  Each side is engaged in a petty struggle to score political points.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is that the debate has gone on this long because so much is at stake – these negotiations get to the heart of what it means to be a Republican and a Democrat.  The two sides are locked in a fundamental debate regarding a defining issue: what is it that we want the government to do?  In effect, it is a fight over establishing national priorities. There are strong preferences on both sides, and I would be disappointed if this type of intense, prolonged debate did not occur. And the polling evidence indicates the public is paying attention, even if they do not always understand the details.  This is how the system is supposed to work.

3. If ever we needed a reminder, this last week has provided it: the presidency is an inherently weak office.  But, of course, we do need the reminder.  When George W. Bush was president, particularly after 9-11, critics complained that he usurped power rightfully belonging to Congress and that he acted in imperial fashion.  It was a dubious claim, one fueled more by opposition to Bush’s policies, I suspect, than by any reasoned evaluation of his actual power.  The reality is that when Bush was acting “imperially” he had the full support of a unified party that controlled both houses in Congress.  And when he lost that support, he suddenly looked weak.  Why, critics wonder, doesn’t Obama act more like the first-term, post 9-11 Bush?  Is it because the presidency was suddenly shorn of formal powers when Obama took office?  No.  The reality is that Bush’s apparent authority flowed largely from the political support, or at least deference, he received from Congress.  Without that support or deference, he could do little – as we see with Obama today.  Perhaps the most extraordinary announcement Boehner made last Friday was that he was cutting Obama out of negotiations, and would deal directly with Senate Democrats to end the deficit impasse.  Yes,  some of that  was for show, but Obama basically acknowledged as much when he demanded that the Republicans come up with a plan to avoid a debt default.  One is reminded of Bill Clinton’s plea that he was “still relevant” in the aftermath of the Gingrich-led Republican revolution in 1994.  And that remains the case today – Obama is relevant, in no small part because of his veto power.  But he is working with a weaker hand because he has largely ceded the agenda-setting function to Boehner and House Republicans.

4.  A final thought.  In 1987 star Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens walked out of training camp during a contract dispute.  When asked by the media what he intended to do, Sox General Manager Lou Gorman famously responded: “The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I will have lunch.”  In the next several days you will read stories like this laying out doomsday scenarios and excoriating our elected leaders for playing political games.

Remember I cautioned long ago that this debate would extend until just before the default deadline, and that only then would both sides reach an agreement to end the budget impasse. I am sticking by that prediction.

In the meantime, the sun will rise, the sun will set, and I’m going to have lunch.

Who Is To Blame? The Art of the Deal, Part I

As near as I can tell from piecing together the news fragments leaking from the usual anonymous sources on both sides of the debt debate, Boehner and Obama had a framework for a significant budget deal in place along the lines I had predicted a week back.  The deal went like this:

Republicans get between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion in spending reductions.  In return, they agree to nearly $800 billion in revenue increases over 10 years, but not through a tax rate increase.  (In other words, not by rescinding the Bush tax cuts for upper-income earners.)  Instead, the revenue would come through closing tax loopholes, exemptions, etc.  To insure that real tax reform took place, however, the deal would include a legislative “trigger” that would automatically rescind the Bush tax cuts if real tax reform didn’t occur.  Republicans countered with their own trigger: no tax reform would mean no individual mandate for health insurance.  The White House resisted this, and it probably would have been dropped, but the framework of a deal was still in place and negotiations still ongoing.

Note that this plan included significant entitlement reform. The spending cuts included more than $1 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense and $650 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Evidently Obama had signed on to a plan to reduce Medicare spending by gradually raising the eligibility age to 67 – a significant concession given the virulent opposition to this from the Democratic Left.   In short, spending cuts outweighed revenue hikes by more than 4-to-1.   That’s what 2010 and the Tea Party did to the context of budgetary negotiations.

So what happened?  On Tuesday, the Senate “Gang of Six” – three Democrats and three Republicans – proposed their own deficit reduction proposal that included a bigger tax revenue increase than Obama had already agreed to, in principle.  Meanwhile, Senate Democrats in his party, who were largely bystanders in these negotiations, were already complaining about a deal that essentially traded spending cuts today for a proposed increase in tax revenues down the road.  Obama’s political cover with the Left was suddenly pulled out from under him when the Gang of Six came out with their more generous tax revenue plan.  At this point he really had no choice but to come back to the table to ask Boehner for an additional $400 billion in revenue, to essentially match the Gang of Six plan.

Although talks continued for a couple of more days, this additional request is evidently what led to the current impasse.  So, who is to blame?

Again, speculating between the lines, it is not clear to me that Boehner appreciated the box Obama was in with his Senate party’s left wing once the Gang of Six proposal came out.  At that point he had to at least go through the motion of asking for additional revenue.  I think Obama fully expected to get rejected, but at best he hoped Boehner might make a counteroffer, and at the worst negotiations would continue.  In a couple of days, if no progress was made, and with the August 2 date looming,  Obama could then tell Senate Democrats there was no give on the revenue side from Republicans, and he was going to take the deal on the table.

Instead, Boehner surprised Obama and walked out – for now. I think he misread Obama’s sudden counteroffer as a sign that the President really wasn’t serious about striking a deal – but I think that was an incorrect read of Obama’s intention.   In fact, I think Obama’s 2012 reelection depends in large part on striking a deal, and he’ll make considerable  concessions to get one.  In short, a misreading of intentions led Boehner to overreact here.  It is unfortunate that both sides went public with the dispute, as that may make it harder to get back to the table.  Harder – but not impossible.

Contrary to media reports, then, I don’t believe the “grand bargain” is done.  It is quite possible, with a deal this close that Obama will agree to a short-term increase in the debt ceiling while negotiations continue.  I continue to believe that he is willing to move as far right as Republicans insist is necessary to strike a deal – but to do so he needs political cover with the Left in the Senate.  In the end, however, his political interests in striking a deal are going to trump their policy preferences.

Stay tuned.