Tuesday, November 18, 2014


If a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline passes the Senate soon, President Obama will veto it, and there won't be enough votes to override the veto. That's for now, of course -- once Republicans have the Senate majority come January, Republicans and pro-Keystone Democrats could muster enough votes to override an Obama veto.

At that point, The New York Times tells me, the president may decide to use Keystone to drive some sort of bargain -- in a way I find unimaginable:
White House advisers have repeatedly said that they do not intend to issue a final decision until a Nebraska court issues a verdict on the route of the pipeline through that state. But that decision is expected to come as soon as January, the same month that an incoming Republican-majority Congress can be expected to send another Keystone bill to the president's desk -- one that could be within a few votes of a veto-proof majority.

If that is the case, people familiar with the president's thinking say that in 2015 he might use Keystone as a bargaining chip: He would offer Republicans approval of it in exchange for approval of one of his policies.
In exchange for approval of one of his policies? Seriously?

The obvious objection to this is that the Republicans simply don't bargain -- in every case, the GOP responds to a dealmaking situation with the Michael Corleone line: My offer is this: nothing.

But the problem is more than just the GOP's refusal to negotiate. I don't see evidence that the GOP even wants the president to sign the bill.

If he signs it, it's no longer available to Republicans as a wedge issue. Republicans care much more about having a long list of wedge issues than they do about actual policy outcomes. Republicans want to fire up the base by being the pro-Keystone party, and want to collect large amounts of money from energy-industry donors by being the pro-Keystone party; those are much more important considerations to them than actually getting the pipeline built.

What's more, while Republicans favor Keystone, it's not so important to them that it's worth trading for something the president favors that Republicans don't favor. Making deals is politically dangerous for the Republicans. Fox and talk radio and Drudge and Breitbart have the GOP base so angry about every issue that any concession on any issue is deemed a betrayal by the base.

So when the president offers to sign the bill in return for a GOP concession on another issue, he's offering Republicans something they don't really want. The Keystone pipeline is much more important to them as an issue than as a conduit for fossil fuel.

The president is making the same mistake Democrats made when they agreed to the sequester. Democrats thought, "Surely Republicans will negotiate to end the sequester cuts because some of the cuts are in defense, and Republicans care deeply about preserving a strong defense." Republicans didn't care. They don't really give a crap about defense spending -- what they care about is being seen as the party of strong defense, while Democrats are seen as the surrender-monkey hippies who put daisies in gun barrels. The policy outcome doesn't matter -- all that matters is the posture, and the political advantage Republicans can gain from it, in votes and checks.

Republicans would be delighted if a Republican president signed Keystone into law, of course. But a Democratic president? Voluntarily? In return for concessions? They'd rather fight.


Never Ben Better said...

Of course, if the President were to offer a reasonable deal and the Republicans had to scramble like idiots to make up excuses why suddenly it's no go, and if the media were to point out how they were flip-flopping purely for political purposes, why, then....

I think I see the flaw in this scenario.

Philo Vaihinger said...

This is how people end up wanting a "strong man" to run the country.

The parties become so bitter and unscrupulous in their sabotaging of each other that they "take hostages" and start to sabotage the country as part of their routine modus operandi, each blaming the other for the destruction.

When the party system disgraces itself enough in the eyes of the public, along comes Mussolini.

Whose public approval rating is worse than the president's?

The congress's.

Think about it.

Victor said...

"The parties become so bitter and unscrupulous in their sabotaging of each other that they "take hostages" and start to sabotage the country as part of their routine modus operandi, each blaming the other for the destruction."

"Parties," Philo?

Please show me when during a Republican President's administration, the Democrats sabotaged the country as part of their routine modus operandi...

Since the Civil War, I mean.

Anonymous said...

Eh. The "people familiar with the president's thinking" (PFWTPT) aren't saying that they expect Republicans to _take_ the offer. I think it's long been evident that Team Obama likes being able to say that they _make_ offers. (And, by the by, part of who they like to be able to say it _to_ is Democratic "centrists.") PFWTPT aren't idiots, hyper-idealists, or Don Quixotes.

Ken_L said...

You've highlighted the flaw in the whole "why doesn't Obama negotiate more?" whining. There is a fundamental requirement for a negotiation to succeed: both parties have genuinely to want to reach an agreement. And as you say, Republicans don't want that at all. They want to use negotiations as theatre in which they get a platform to air their grievances. Really the ignorance of so many pundits about power and influence in politics is abysmal; all they focus on is process.

Annoying Buzz said...

Just like abortion. Much more valuable to the righties as an outrage generator than an actual issue in need of solving.