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Why negotiate with yourself? Why try to guess what the Republicans might actually support?

To give them the political cover to make a counter-offer.

There is a reason why "third-rail" political issues rarely get addressed. Proposals that might affect the entitlements of millions and millions of people are politically dangerous. They can only happen if both parties are sufficiently invested in the proposals, such that neither party is going to get clobbered at the next election. Equally, these types of issues also require the parties to take positions that their base opposes - which also carries enormous political risk.

So the GOP floats the idea of increasing taxes (if not tax rates) - which is contrary to their base's position. Obama's initial offer contains nothing that gives them any cover in response to that. Indeed, as many have pointed out, it creates a context where there is a risk of enormous political damage to the GOP if they make any response at all. It's a very clever political move - the GOP will lose whatever they do, which is why the President's supporters love it.

There are thus two possible scenarios. The first is that the President does believe that the end result of the fiscal cliff negotiations would have to include significant entitlement reforms - but he is putting up sufficiently large political obstacles to further negotiations that he prefers a breakdown. The second is that the President believes that the end agreement will not include significant entitlement reforms.

Unfortunately, under either scenario, the GOP cannot (and should not) pursue these negotiations - because they both indicate that the President doesn't want to reach an agreement before the fiscal cliff has been reached. The President has to know that this offer ties the hands of the GOP - which means that's probably the intended outcome.

Again, a very smart move - but not one that leads to continued negotiations.

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