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So, I finished reading the Price of Politics last week but, as I indicated in another thread, I have been in baby jail lately and unable to create a more detailed post. The Price of Politics is Bob Woodward's new book that mainly focuses on the inability to reach a "grand bargain" or a bargain of any kind, forcing sequester solution onto Congress and creating the looming fiscal cliff by making automatic cuts in defense and discretionary spending.

The initial excerpts from the book may have been a little biased. Woodward has plenty of blame to go around. The book seems quite reasonable, everything is excellently sourced (often times from multiple principles), and the narrative it tells is exceedingly believable.


Here is how most of the blame is spread about:

Republicans: Boehner shoulders a chunk of the blame for not being able to get the rank and file Republicans in line as Speaker of the House. This blame is almost equally shared by Cantor as well. A subtle rift developed between Boehner and Cantor (who represents, for the most part, the Tea Party faction). Both of them seemed to know that tax increases were not going to pass through the House. Boehner was willing to consider revenue generation in the form of changing the tax code, but the Obama Administration was unwilling to commit to that.

Democrats: Here, the focus is on Pelosi and Reid. Pelosi was continually left out of most negotiations; however, while obviously irritated about it, should would guarantee that Obama would get the votes he needed. Reid was much less helpful. Clearly, Reid felt that Obama was overstepping his power in the executive branch and indicated that Obama "didn't understand how Congress worked".

The Administration: Clearly, Obama had leadership problems as well. While it wasn't to the degree as Boehner, he did not have complete control over Reid - at least not to the extent of Pelosi. Furthermore, he engaged in many things that most of the other main players found suspect at best; especially in terms of negotiation. In fact, McConnell clarified his statement "the goal was to make Obama a one term President" was not one of defeat the President at any turn, but rather of "force the President to change the manner in which he interacts with Congress"

Here are some of the problems as I see them, and I suppose, most of my questions arise with whether these actually pose problems or not in a negotiation setting or if they are being used as excuses.

1) Many of the Republicans claimed that the President effectively poisoned the well by claiming that "Elections have consequences, and I won". Setting the negotiations and potential bipartisanship off to a bad start. Further, the President publicly shamed the Ryan budget by tearing into it after personally inviting Ryan to the speech - further causing the Republicans to dig their heels in (Obama later admits that this was a mistake strategically and the invitation was sent by mistake as well). There were also several separate mentions of the President's confidence (which some claimed bordered on arrogance).

2) The President appointed Biden to form a committee to develop a solution. The committee consisted of Cantor and some other delegates. However, this committee was unable to come to a solution. Upon seeing that the committee was failing, Boehner and Obama started to have secret negotiation meetings. Meanwhile, the Gang of Six was meeting outside of the either of these committees purview (and I think independently of the President). The Boehner-Obama talks broke down when the President pressed for additional revenue beyond what they already agreed -- the President recalls it as a request, Boehner recalls it as a "must have".

After, these talks broke down, Cantor and Biden were brought back (both are rumored to have said they could make a deal if they were in charge). The basically were reaching a deal; however, right before the end, the President endorsed the suggestions of the Gang of Six for a deal. The main reasoning being that the Gang of Six included more revenue increases. Cantor felt betrayed and broke off negotiations. There were various times when negotiations where happening between several groups at once.

3) Reid and McConnell came up with the final deal. Interesting, Reid, McConnell, Pelosi, and Boehner all thought that Obama was involved too much, at the wrong times, and with the wrong types of suggestions (usually more high-minded than detail oriented). They also felt that he didn't follow the proper channels (at one point Boehner reminded him that the Legislative branch crafted legislation, so his input wasn't needed -- this was towards the end when the Reid/McConnell plan was coming together) or the traditional methods (mainly complaints by Boehner/Reid). Most of the blame was placed on Obama's staff, rather than the President himself, who seemed collectively unaware of how the process was supposed to work.

While I know that many of these things may be particular to Washington, I was also curious how they might broadly apply to negotiation. Like:

1) How important are the traditional manners of negotiation in a domain specific area? Especially something that is steeped in tradition, like the historically conservative (in process) Senate?

2) How detrimental is working several deals simultaneously with different players? The effect seemed to erode trust and muddy the problem. Are the Republicans claims of this reasonable?

3) If one of the parties is over-confident or arrogant, is that generally detrimental?

I suppose I am curious how many of these things would be cautionary when training someone to negotiate and how many of them would be incidental and not worth worrying about. At one point, it seems the negations were within $200 billion out of 4.2 trillion of having an agreement -- neither side was willing to give (the Republicans on more taxes, the Democrats on either tax code reform and/or Medicare/Medicaid cuts). To an outside observer, it seems shameful and ridiculous that the sides couldn't come to an agreement when that close together.

 
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Chad Ellis
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Hey SG,

I have some definite thoughts about this, but my wife's away for the weekend which means I'm in the older version of baby jail. Plus, I hab a code ib by dose.

I'll try to take a crack at this tomorrow or Monday.
 
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Chad Ellis
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SpaceGhost wrote:
1) How important are the traditional manners of negotiation in a domain specific area? Especially something that is steeped in tradition, like the historically conservative (in process) Senate?


It really depends. In theory, the only thing that should matter are interests, power, no-deal alternatives, etc. If you and I have the option to split $1,000 on a table and my alternative is $0 and yours is $400 the outcome shouldn't have anything to do with whether you're annoyed with me. And, of course, the higher the stakes the less it should matter.

In practice, however, it often can. Humans have powerful triggers against being pushed around, and I think politicians in particular worry about losing or being perceived to have lost. In such cases, manners can be absurdly important. (FWIW, every professional negotiator and trainer I know considers manners important.)

Quote:
2) How detrimental is working several deals simultaneously with different players? The effect seemed to erode trust and muddy the problem. Are the Republicans claims of this reasonable?


This is extremely hard to judge from the outside. A "backup" negotiation can undermine the main one and cause confusion and mistrust. It can also be necessary (if the main one isn't working) and in some cases two parallel negotiations can put pressure on each other to close the deal. So basically I find the Republican objections here plausible but I don't know whether or not they're reasonable.

I generally avoid parallel negotiations because I think far more can go wrong than can go right, especially if the boundaries and responsibilities aren't clear. If it looks like a delegated group is failing to come to agreement, however, it can be appropriate for those in charge to explore a more direct option.

Quote:
3) If one of the parties is over-confident or arrogant, is that generally detrimental?


Yes. There are times when it can be effective to present yourself as over-confident or even delusional, but I think it's very rare that it's actually good to be anything but rational and objective.

Quote:
I suppose I am curious how many of these things would be cautionary when training someone to negotiate and how many of them would be incidental and not worth worrying about. At one point, it seems the negations were within $200 billion out of 4.2 trillion of having an agreement -- neither side was willing to give (the Republicans on more taxes, the Democrats on either tax code reform and/or Medicare/Medicaid cuts). To an outside observer, it seems shameful and ridiculous that the sides couldn't come to an agreement when that close together.


This happens incredibly often in real-world negotiations, whether in business or even in our personal lives. It comes back, I think, to the intense aversion we have to "losing". When all that's left is a tiny gap it can become symbolically very important not to be the one who makes that final concession -- who blinks, who gives in, who loses. It's also often the case that natural cognitive bias leads each side to think that they have already been the more generous and made the more significant concessions.

Imagine that we're dividing up that $1,000. I've been taking a really hard line and demanded more than half of it. (Forget, for a moment, your $400 no-deal option and assume that now we each get nothing if we don't split.) My final offer is that I take $600 and you take $400. You've made a final offer of $420 for you and $580 for me. There's just $20 between us and you stand to gain $400 if you take my offer but you're likely to be angry that I'm being unfair and you might easily be unwilling to give up that last $20 when your current offer already gives me more than it gives you. Surely I should be the one to offer up that last $20?

Of course, in the real world the numbers aren't so clear. In a real deal, my perception might be that you're the one being unreasonable because I think that you're getting $800 instead of $400. So I feel just as strongly that you're trying to screw me and I'll be damned if I'm going to make that last concession.
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Awesome, Chad. I'll hav some follow-up later after today's meetings
 
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