Surprising source of support for Boehner's version of debt ceiling talks

William Tate
During last summer's federal debt ceiling crisis, House Speaker John Boehner and Barack Obama came close to a 'Grand Bargain' to manage out-of-control government spending. After negotiations broke down, Boehner and Obama both essentially blamed the other for failing to reach a deal. It's been mainly a he said/he said sort of argument.

Until now.

A New York Times Magazine article examines the negotiations between Boehner and Obama, and sheds new light on whom to believe. Rather surprisingly, it supports Boehner's contention that Obama reneged on a deal by demanding last-minute spending increases. Matt Bai writes:

"If you shake hands with a guy on the price of a car, and you agree to talk again after the car has been inspected and the loan has been approved, you don't really expect to show up and find out that car now costs $5,000 more."

Matt Bai also writes that Boehner thought he had worked out a deal with Obama, a deal which included $800 billion in additional revenues, largely from future growth. This would be worked out through projections involving a "macro estimate":

"(T)he macro estimate was essential to Boehner; he needed it to make the argument that a decent chunk of the additional revenue could come through growth and stepped-up compliance, and thus Congress wouldn't need to actually raise anybody's rates to get it done. Boehner left that Sunday meeting convinced that Geithner, in particular, understood and accepted this condition.

But in his counteroffer, Obama had reversed the formulation so that the tax revenue figure - now at $1.16 trillion - would be the minimum that rewriting the code could achieve (a floor), rather than a maximum (a ceiling). With a slight turn of phrase, he rejected Boehner's entire premise that growth could be counted on to deliver some of the revenue.

White House aides would later insist that, despite their rough agreement on a framework the previous Sunday, the discussion about tax reform had always been fluid and unsettled, an ongoing negotiation in which both sides were still feeling out each other's limits... If this is true, though, then it's true only in the technical sense. If you shake hands with a guy on the price of a car, and you agree to talk again after the car has been inspected and the loan has been approved, you don't really expect to show up and find out that car now costs $5,000 more. This is essentially what happened to Boehner."

It's an interesting and seemingly well researched article, and is more sympathetic to Boehner's point of view than one might expect. And this is from a long-time critic of the Times.

-William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author


During last summer's federal debt ceiling crisis, House Speaker John Boehner and Barack Obama came close to a 'Grand Bargain' to manage out-of-control government spending. After negotiations broke down, Boehner and Obama both essentially blamed the other for failing to reach a deal. It's been mainly a he said/he said sort of argument.

Until now.

A New York Times Magazine article examines the negotiations between Boehner and Obama, and sheds new light on whom to believe. Rather surprisingly, it supports Boehner's contention that Obama reneged on a deal by demanding last-minute spending increases. Matt Bai writes:

"If you shake hands with a guy on the price of a car, and you agree to talk again after the car has been inspected and the loan has been approved, you don't really expect to show up and find out that car now costs $5,000 more."

Matt Bai also writes that Boehner thought he had worked out a deal with Obama, a deal which included $800 billion in additional revenues, largely from future growth. This would be worked out through projections involving a "macro estimate":

"(T)he macro estimate was essential to Boehner; he needed it to make the argument that a decent chunk of the additional revenue could come through growth and stepped-up compliance, and thus Congress wouldn't need to actually raise anybody's rates to get it done. Boehner left that Sunday meeting convinced that Geithner, in particular, understood and accepted this condition.

But in his counteroffer, Obama had reversed the formulation so that the tax revenue figure - now at $1.16 trillion - would be the minimum that rewriting the code could achieve (a floor), rather than a maximum (a ceiling). With a slight turn of phrase, he rejected Boehner's entire premise that growth could be counted on to deliver some of the revenue.

White House aides would later insist that, despite their rough agreement on a framework the previous Sunday, the discussion about tax reform had always been fluid and unsettled, an ongoing negotiation in which both sides were still feeling out each other's limits... If this is true, though, then it's true only in the technical sense. If you shake hands with a guy on the price of a car, and you agree to talk again after the car has been inspected and the loan has been approved, you don't really expect to show up and find out that car now costs $5,000 more. This is essentially what happened to Boehner."

It's an interesting and seemingly well researched article, and is more sympathetic to Boehner's point of view than one might expect. And this is from a long-time critic of the Times.

-William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author