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Obama Gives Boehner the Death Hug

[Guest post by Matthew Zeitlin]

It has become clear that Obama thinks that it would be a good idea to reach some kind of grand bargain deficit reduction deal with the Republican House. Whether he thinks this for political reasons, substantive reasons or some combination of the two is immaterial.

However, by telegraphing the political stakes so clearly, he has made it very difficult for Boehner to sign on a to a deal that involves a substantive compromise – i.e. some form of revenue or tax increase – and the political compromise of getting the House GOP to support a deal that will make it more likely that he will win reelection in 2012.

This puts Boehner in a position where he almost has to avoid helping the White House lest his position as speaker be in jeopardy. And today, at his press conference, Obama gave Boehner the death hug:

 I have a stake in John Boehner successfully persuading his caucus that this is the right thing to do, just like he has a stake in seeing me successfully persuading the Democratic Party that we should take on these problems that we’ve been talking about for too long but haven’t been doing anything about.
 I think Speaker Boehner has been very sincere about trying to do something big.  I think he’d like to do something big.  His politics within his caucus are very difficult -- you’re right.  And this is part of the problem with a political process where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections or obtain short-term political gain, when we actually are in a position to try to do something hard we haven’t always laid the groundwork for.  And I think that it’s going to take some work on his side, but, look, it’s also going to take some work on our side, in order to get this thing done.

What Obama is saying is that Boehner is torn between what he knows is the right thing to do for the country—help Obama “do something big” and pass a major deficit reduction package with revenue increases—and what is right for him politically, which is to oppose Obama at every turn. Of course, House Republicans and Republican voters think that opposing Obama is what is good for the country, and since Obama has made the deficit issue about him and his political prospects, this makes it very difficult for Boehner to be seen as helping him, because Obama faces near-blanket total disapproval in the Republican party. 

If a grand bargain is something that Obama thinks will help him in 2012, that guarantees massive Republican opposition, which explains why negotations over the debt ceiling have been at a standstill. Republicans don’t like Obama and don’t want him to succeed politically.

Why he thinks the Republican speaker is able or willing to help him in these circumstances is beyond me.