What's the equilibrium here?
EZRA KLEIN describes the game President Obama seems to be playing these days:The Obama administration's theory of policymaking amid divided government is a frustrating one. What most people want from the president is to lead. And leading, in this case, means giving a speech, getting behind some unpopular ideas, trying to change public opinion...But the White House has come to the conclusion that that type of leadership doesn't work. It believes that the quickest way to kill a controversial proposal in a polarized political system is to have the president endorse it. Once a high-profile proposal is associated with the White House, Republicans (correctly) view its passage as a threat to their political fortunes. That's why the Obama administration didn't endorse a payroll tax holiday until after the election, when it emerged as part of the tax deal. Endorsing it before the election would've "poisoned the well," one administration official told me after. Republicans would have had to attack it, and that would have made it impossible for them to endorse it later. The Obama administration may have a point here. Consider one item that the president has repeatedly, openly pushed—investment in America's long-neglected intercity rail system. Republican governors are cancelling rail plans as fast as they can. Florida Governor Rick Scott just scrapped a Florida plan, despite the fact that the federal government was going to cover most of the capital costs, while private companies were offering to cover the rest in exchange for the right to operate the line.On the other hand, Mr Obama responded to Republican budget proposals that avoided addressing entitlements by...releasing a budget that avoided addressing entitlements. And lo and behold, Republican congressional leaders are now scrambling to include entitlement reforms in new budget plans. Maybe the president has this whole reverse psychology thing figured out.But I doubt this is a stable equilibrium. The GOP's reflexive anti-Obama streak is motivated, one presumes, by a desire to win elections. One supposes that they feel they must deny him legislative victories in order to be successful at the ballot box. So for a while, presidential abdication of leadership may create political space for something like honest legislative negotiations over policy. But a grand bargain that takes place under Mr Obama's watch is a political victory for Mr Obama, whether or not he led the charge. And the GOP is unlikely to let the president have such a win.What is the equilibrium here? The latest journalistic thinking is that super secret talks are underway between Republicans and Democrats, and a "handshake agreement" may or may not already be in place. But what, in previous iterations of the Obama-GOP game, has put in place the conditions for a grand bargain outcome?I would expect neither Obama administration Jedi mind tricks or secret deals to yield real budget solutions. Explicit outside pressure, from bond markets, will yield deals. And that pressure is not yet forthcoming.