Friday, November 30, 2012

Negotiating 101

The GOP has been claiming for a long time that President Barack Obama refuses to make a proposal for dealing with the "fiscal cliff" -- at least not one with specifics. Calling their bluff, the president sent Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to visit congressional leaders and make a proposal. It calls for $1.6-trillion in tax increases, $350-billion in cuts in health programs, $250-billion in cuts in other programs, and $800-billion in assumed savings from the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's pretty specific.

Of course, now that he's complied, Republicans are reviling the president for doing just what they had been asking him to do all along. They're feigning offense for him not make any concessions in his proposal. Of course, had they wanted some concessions, the Republicans should have laid their own proposal containing those concessions on the table before the president presented his. But because they lack the spine to do so, they're instead faced with the president's proposal.

Republicans shouldn't be surprised by the terms in the president's proposal. For over a year, he's been very clear on his position and what he would do if he were reelected. The terms of his proposal look like what he campaigned on. America elected him based on that, so he owes it to the American people to try to get those terms in his proposal.

Of course, this is out of character for the president, so that could explain why Republicans are taken aback. For most of his first term, the president used very different negotiating tactics. He would tell Democrats what his position on the issue was. Then he would make an initial proposal to the GOP that looked more like what Republicans had been telling their base they wanted. Seeing the president begin his negotiations at the point where they previously would have started, the Republicans would move even further to the Right and claim an ultra-conservative position as their starting point. After that, the president would make yet more concessions to the GOP without even being asked for them or getting any concessions from them in return. When agreement was finally reached, the president would call caving in to the GOP "bi-partisan legislation."

After being reelected by over 60-million Americans and a landslide in the Electoral College, Obama doesn't roll that way anymore. He's beginning negotiations with a proposal that has everything he wants. But the Republican leaders should stop complaining because the president knows he's not going to get everything he's asking for anyway. He's just using better negotiating tactics than he has in the past.

Rather than crying to the press, the GOP should come up with their counter-proposal and lay it on the table. Then one side discusses which of their terms are really important to them and which ones are not so much, and the other side does the same with the terms in their agreement. With that information, the parties can take specific terms and make offers like agreeing to give up one thing if the other party gives up another or one party can offer a term to the other in exchange for a term they want. Eventually, the parties move closer together and both sides get some things they want but neither gets everything they want. That's the way negotiations should work and the president has only taken the first step in that process so far.

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