While I will not even begin to try to understand the psychology and political thinking involved, the President seems to value getting a “big bipartisan deal” above almost anything else. Actually solving the policy issues these big deals are meant to address is clearly far less important than Obama than to have everyone applaud him for making a big bipartisan achievement happen.
This is exemplified in the bizarre lengths President Obama is willing to go to get a “$4 trillion in deficit” reduction from a big bipartisan deal. From Ezra Klein:
Here’s what appears to have been in the $4 trillion deal they offered the Republicans: A two-year increase in the Medicare eligibility age. Chained-CPI, which amounts to a $200 billion cut to Social Security benefits. A tax-reform component that would raise $800 billion and preempt the expiration of the Bush tax cuts — which would mean, for those following along at home, that the deal would only include half as much revenue as the fiscal commission recommended, and when you add the effect of making the Bush tax cuts a permanent part of the code, would net out to a tax cut of more than $3 trillion when compared to current law.
Obama is willing to take a hatchet to the Social Safety net to get a big bipartisan deal that would reduce the deficit $4 trillion compared to a baseline where all the Bush tax cuts were extended.
If Obama thought $4 trillion in deficit reduction was the most important thing for the country and the only way to reduce the deficit was to make massive concessions to Republicans, from this misguided policy perspective such a deal could be justified. This just isn’t even the case though.
If Obama truly believed $4 trillion in deficit reduction should be his most important policy goal, he can single-handedly achieve this goal by simply commit to vetoing any attempt the extend all the Bush tax cuts in 2012. It would produce basically the exact same level of deficit reduction as this possible big bipartisan deal. And since it would just return the country to the 90′s tax rate there is no reason to believe it isn’t a unworkable deficit reduction plan.
Obama was willing to give up this fully achievable deficit reduction plan to possibly get a bipartisan deal for the same level of deficit reduction. Going with the bipartisan deal would actually be worse from a deficit reduction policy perspective, because some of the cuts in the grand bargain have broad support and could likely pass outside any big deal.
Obama is no deficit hawk or policy wonk, he is a big deal hawk. He seems to wants to get big bipartisan deals for the sake of getting big deals. He fights for a bipartisan deal even with getting a deal is totally unnecessary to achieving his stated policy goals.