Normally, when Congress and the President are at odds, they get together and compromise. I doubt there will be a compromise on Iraq funding, however. I say this not because I think the Dems in Congress will stand firm — they’ve already offered to make concessions, in fact — but because I don’t think President Bush will compromise.
As I wrote yesterday, psychopaths don’t compromise on anything they consider important. In my experience, they are averse to compromising even on matters most would consider unimportant. It’s the nature of the beast, see; they can no more compromise than pigs can fly. The pattern I have observed is that they will stubbornly refuse to budge even on trivial matters. If they are forced to concede they will only pretend to do so, often using a fake compromise to deceive the other side into making all the real concessions.
(My former psychopathic boss was brilliant at making “deals” with vendors which, they would realize later, committed them to providing her with free products and services. Their reward was that she would consider taking their phone calls, although a vendor became persona non grata as soon as he dared to submit an invoice.)
A classic example of this behavior is the way Bush “compromised” with John McCain over a bill outlawing the torture of detainees. After months of non-negotiation, in December 2005 Bush made a big show of pretending to endorse McCain’s bill to ban the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment of detainees in U.S. custody anywhere in the world. McCain’s proposal had veto-proof support, so Bush was backed into a corner. Or so Congress thought. A week later it was learned that Bush had quietly attached a signing statement to the bill that reserved his prerogative to order torture.
This is not to say that Bush is incapable of changing his position. He can change his position, but he does so only when it’s part of a calculated plan to get his way on something else. For example, he opposed the formation of a Department of Homeland Security — a measure being pushed mostly by Democrats — until June 2002, when he suddenly reversed position and supported it. But this was hardly a compromise with Democrats. He took the issue away from Dems by including a poison-pill provision that denied civil service protections to DHS employees. When Democrats balked, the GOP used Democrats’ alleged opposition to DHS to bury the Dems in the 2002 mid-term elections.
In fact, it’s a challenge to find any situation in which Bush negotiated in good faith and compromised in a way that didn’t turn out to be entirely to his benefit. This flip flop list reveals the pattern pretty nicely. (This list was compiled early in 2004. Note that some of his “reversals,” such as a promise to “cooperate fully” in the investigation of who outed Valerie Plame Wilson, turned out to be meaningless.)
Yesterday, Dan Froomkin wondered if Bush can negotiate.
With the public resoundingly against him, Republican support wearing thin, and — most importantly — Congress in Democratic hands, President Bush today finds himself in the unusual position of actually having to negotiate.
The question is: Does he have it in him?
A day after vetoing legislation that would have established a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, Bush has invited congressional leaders to the White House for a sit-down.
“I am confident that with goodwill on both sides, we can agree on a bill that gets our troops the money and flexibility they need as soon as possible,” Bush said in a short televised address last night, announcing the veto.
But the president’s language was inflexible: “It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing,” he said. “All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength — and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq. I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East, and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments. Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure — and that would be irresponsible.”
With no apparent sense of irony, Bush described the Democratic plan as “a prescription for chaos and confusion.”
So what happens now? Will Bush refuse to genuinely engage with his critics? (His traditional response to Democrats who disagree with him.) Will he try to find some way to make it look like he’s compromising when he really isn’t? (His traditional response to Republicans who disagree with him.) Or will he start talking in earnest about ways both sides can compromise?
In his first six years in office, the rubber-stamp Republican Congress enabled Bush to play his games his way. Will the loss of the rubber stamp force him to change his ways? If he’s as sick as I think he is, that can’t happen. At some point this year — hopefully before summer vacations — Congress and the White House may be at such an impasse that Congress finally will have to acknowledge we’re in constitutional crisis and that something has to be done about it. Such an impasse is, IMO, the only thing that will push Congress in the direction of impeaching Bush.
The conventional wisdom is that the White House’s big concession will be to entertain discussions about benchmarks for the Iraqi government. But it’s important to keep in mind that the White House has been talking about such benchmarks for many months now. In his prime-time address in January, Bush even announced: “America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.”
The administration has even previously indicated it had some deadlines in mind for those benchmarks. It’s just that none of them have been met. On the same day in January that Bush made his announcement, senior administration officials promised that the Iraqis would deliver three additional Iraqi brigades to Baghdad by the end of February. That didn’t happen. And the following day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged in Senate testimony that without progress toward some key benchmarks within “one or two months . . . this plan is not going to work.” It’s now been four months, with little or no progress. (For background and links, see my Thursday column, Keep Your Eye on the Benchmarks.)
So the central issue is not whether there are benchmarks, or even timetables. The central issue is whether failure to meet those benchmarks has any genuine consequences — and whether those consequences include the withdrawal of American forces.
A more central issue is whether Bush even cares about the bleeping benchmarks, or whether the benchmarks were just a talking point his speechwriters came up with because he had to say something. But the argument seems to be that, because Bush himself has talked about benchmarks, he shouldn’t balk at a spending bill that includes benchmarks. This idea comes from people who have never had to deal with a psychopath. I’m betting that if the legislation contains any mandatory consequences for not meeting a benchmark, Bush will balk. The only question would be whether he vetoes the bill or just nullifies the conditions with a signing statement.
It’s not about benchmarks, see. It’s not even about Iraq. Psychopaths absolutely cannot stand to be told what to do.
There’s an article in today’s Washington Post by Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray that suggests Dems are backing down and will present to Bush a nearly condition-free bill. [Update: Reid and Pelosi deny this.] As of right now I don’t think the Dems have made any firm concessions; they’re still in trial balloon stage. But I think the more interesting bit of this article is a bit later:
But a new dynamic also is at work, with some Republicans now saying that funding further military operations in Iraq with no strings attached does not make practical or political sense. Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.), a conservative who opposed the first funding bill, said, “The hallway talk is very different from the podium talk.”
While deadlines for troop withdrawals had to be dropped from the spending bill, such language is likely to appear in a defense policy measure that is expected to reach the House floor in two weeks, just when a second war funding bill could be ready for a House vote. Democrats want the next spending measure to pass before Congress recesses on May 25 for Memorial Day weekend.
Keep in mind that the just-vetoed bill is not the only Iraq War bill that will need to be passed this year. A concession on one bill is not necessarily a concession on the issue. As I wrote yesterday, the goal for Dems is to get a substantial number of Republicans to break ranks with Bush on something, so that the game is changed from “Democrats versus Republicans” to “Congress versus the White House.”
Distressed by the violence in Iraq and worried about tying their political fate to an unpopular president, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to move away from the White House to stake out a more critical position on the U.S. role in the war.
These lawmakers are advocating proposals that would tie the U.S. commitment in the war to the Iraqi government’s ability to demonstrate that it is working to quell the sectarian conflict. …
… Most Republicans are expected to stick with the White House until September, when the U.S. military commander in Iraq plans to deliver a major assessment of the president’s war strategy. Bush in January ordered the deployment of an additional 21,500 troops to try to stabilize Iraq.
But the call for establishing benchmarks with concrete consequences challenges the position of the president and GOP leaders, much as the Democrats did when they tried to link the same measurements with a troop withdrawal.
And it comes as some Republicans are calling on colleagues to take a more independent position on the war after years of deferring to the White House.
Although nothing is written in stone yet, it’s most likely the next version of the spending bill will not have timetables, but neither will it be completely free of conditions. I’m betting Bush will accept no conditions whatsoever.
Believe me, nothing is over. We’re just getting started.
See the Battle Cry of Nancy after the flip.
Speaker Pelosi Urges Override of the President’s Veto