Why a "grand bargain" was never likely to happen 

There's been a lot of debate about whether a so-called "grand bargain" was possible in the debt limit talks, but there's a very obvious reason why it likely wasn't. The bottom line is, both parties have reason to hope that their negotiating positions will be improved as a result of the 2012 elections.

With the economy still weak and President Obama suffering in the polls, Republicans can reasonably think they have a chance to take the White House. They also have a good chance to take the Senate, as Democrats have to defend the seats they won during their wave election year in 2006. So given that Republicans could control the White House and Senate in a year and a half (or at least the Senate), there isn't much incentive for them to agree to raise taxes right now.

Democrats, meanwhile, understand that even though Obama is suffering in the polls due to the economy, Republicans have a weak field of potential challengers. They also think that House Republicans have drastically overreached, and believe they are in position to take back seats if not retake the entire chamber. So, they're reluctant to agree to deep spending cuts now than they have to.

And that's just the policy debate.

Further complicating matters is that each party's political strategy for making the gains they hope to make hinges on them not agreeing to the type of things they'd have to agree to as part of a grand bargain. Democrats want to attack Republicans for slashing entitlements, but they can't do that if they, too, voted to do so. And Republicans cannot run as the party that's protecting voters from Obama's desire to raise taxes if they signed on to tax hikes.

So from the get go, all of the incentives were stacked against a big deal. And while many will fret that this demonstrates the dysfunction of Washington, there's nothing wrong about taking the budget debate to voters in 2012. There's a clear contrast in visions over whether we want a bigger government with more services and higher taxes or smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. And whatever its faults, a presidential election is the best forum we have to debate national issues in front of as large an audience as possible.

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Philip Klein

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