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Obama's Hardball Stance Comes From Lessons Learned

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Obama shakes hands at The Rodon Group manufacturing facility Friday in Hatfield, Pa. He made a case for action on fiscal cliff legislation and urged congress to work together for a solution.

The White House clearly doesn’t expect to get everyting it wants — Carney has said as much on a regular basis. And the administration has signaled that it’s prepared to agree to deeper cuts to health care entitlements than the $400 billion or so that it has repeatedly offered. But first, they want the GOP to agree not just to higher revenue from the wealthy, but an explicit increase in rates as well.

GOP aides had hoped the White House would avoid demanding a hike in “rates” — because that has been House Speaker John A. Boehner’s bottom-line demand this time around. The White House’s most recent proposal probably ensures that the fiscal cliff fight take lawmakers to the brink of the Jan. 1 deadline, and perhaps past it.

Republicans have privately warned that a White House attempt to strong-arm Boehner now could make it much harder to find common ground on a whole host of other issues in the next several years.

“He could do this the easy way and set the stage for a productive second term, or try to lumber through with sharp elbows, attack on the stump, and piss off everyone in the process. Appears he’s headed in the latter direction,” one GOP aide said.

But such talk doesn’t seem to be affecting Obama’s strategy at this point — nor that of Hill Democrats.

“He’s tried that, and it didn’t work,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who pointed to the stimulus plan, health care law and grand bargain talks.

“There’s a long, demonstrated history of that not working,” the aide said.

Obama included hundreds of billions in tax cuts in the stimulus and shrunk its size to appeal to the GOP; it netted him three votes in the Senate. On health care, he started off with a plan that looked a lot like Mitt Romney’s rather than a single-payer-style plan and spent months trying to woo Senate Republicans on the Finance Committee to no avail. And then there were the grand bargain talks last year, which repeatedly blew up over revenue.

Now, “the president is negotiating from a position of strength. The American people just elected him overwhelmingly, and they lost,” the senior Senate Democratic aide said.

And the aide questioned on what issue the GOP would suddenly engage in a detente with Obama if he plays nice with them now. The GOP wants entitlement reform and tax reform and needs immigration reform for their own long-term electoral survival, the aide said.

But the GOP aide contended Obama’s wish list has damaged his standing.

“The president’s strategy previously has been: Look like the reasonable one. He’s far ceded that mantle with the ridiculous move. He looks greedy and reckless,” the aide said.

Boehner, by contrast, has moved at least rhetorically by showing a willingness to raise significant revenue from the wealthy by shrinking their deductions.

The Senate aide rejected the notion that Obama and Democrats haven’t been reasonable. “We’ve already given $2 trillion in spending cuts,” the aide said of previous budget battles.

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