Opinion Brief

Washington's deficit negotiations: Ruined before they start?

The political press worries that Congress' failure to pick powerful, budget-focused negotiators has already spoiled its talks with the White House

President Obama asked House and Senate leaders to send 16 members of Congress — eight from each party — to hash out a deficit-reduction plan with Vice President Joe Biden. In a sign that those talks are "unraveling before they've even begun," say Elise Foley and Jennifer Bendery at The Huffington Post, the GOP agreed to send just two people, and the Democrats only four. And many of the negotiators — Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) — aren't exactly known for their budget expertise. Indeed, they "seem hand-chosen to signal that if a deal's going to get made, it's not going to get made in these negotiations," says The Washington Post's Ezra Klein. Are the talks already doomed?

Republicans don't want to negotiate: "Now would be a good time to lower expectations" for the talks, says Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. Kyl and Cantor aren't "wonks" and "they don't understand budgets." Republicans have already dismissed any plan but their own, and tapping two "knee-jerk partisans" is just another signal that they care more about protecting the rich and denying Obama a win than about actually reducing the deficit.
"A debt agreement by the end of June? Don't count on it"

Actually, the GOP is more serious than Democrats: Kyl and Cantor may not be "particularly fiscal policy players," but they speak for their caucuses, says Moe Lane at RedState. And sending just two people shows the GOP is being more serious than Obama. Sixteen people? You "cannot get 16 people to agree on anything." Plus, look at the Democrats: Two are "obedient mouthpieces" for Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and the other two are "hostile" to deficit talks.
"Cantor, Kyl, and no other Republicans to deficit panel"

Don't give up on the talks yet: That negotiations have gotten this far is a reason for some "optimism," says Erik Wasson in The Hill. Republicans had ignored Obama's offer until S&P downgraded the federal government's credit outlook. And despite their posturing, "Kyl and Cantor add seriousness to the Biden-led talks." With Cantor — the No. 2 Republican in the House, and a favorite of young conservatives — on board, Republican freshmen know "they will not be sold out in a backroom deal." So if a deal is reached, it has a good chance of being enacted.
"White House and Republicans flirt over new negotiations on 2012 budget"

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