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WP: Obama's Evolution: Behind the Failed 'Grand Bargain'

Authors: Peter Wallsten, Lori Montgomery, and Scott Wilson
March 17, 2012

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President Obama used an economic "grand bargain" to wash his hands of Washington's dysfunction, presenting himself as a well-intentioned man unable to secure a fair deal with the Capitol's enduring partisanship--but the reality of the deal was a lot more complicated than press statements from either party reveal, write Peter Wallsten, Lori Montgomery, and Scott Wilson for the Washington Post.

President Obama had just arrived home, walking across Lafayette Square after attending Sunday services with his family at St. John's Church. In the West Wing, Obama ducked into the spacious office of his chief of staff, where he found his negotiating team huddled with two leading Republicans and a passel of aides.

To the outside world, it looked like a do-nothing summer Sunday, a disturbingly quiet reminder of government dysfunction. The prevailing theme on the weekly political talk shows was things falling apart. In two weeks, the government would be unable to pay its bills. Where were the administration and congressional leaders who might work out a compromise to avert the looming disaster? No meetings were taking place at the White House that day, one network host said.

The reality was quite different. Around 11 a.m. July 17, John A. Boehner, the House speaker, and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, had slipped through a side entrance, out of view from the bank of television cameras stationed near the front gate off Pennsylvania Avenue. The on-and-off secret negotiations were on again. They had resumed with a Friday meeting at the Capitol. And they seemed to be going so well by the time Obama returned from church that he invited Boehner and Cantor into the Oval Office to talk, just the three of them.

The sermon the president had heard that morning was a stirring Old Testament account of Jacob dreaming of a ladder that stretched to heaven. Sometimes, the pastor had said, "the best adventures occur when we venture into unmarked terrain." Obama was in a similar frame of mind. Against the vehement advice of many Democrats, including some of his own advisers, Obama was pursuing a compromise with his ideological opponents, a "grand bargain" that would move into unmarked territory, beyond partisan divides, pushing both parties to places they did not want to go. Now might be the moment.

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