Leaders in our region grapple with the debate around Confederate symbols after Charlottesville. We speak to D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (At-large, I), chair of the Education Committee and U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.)
Recent negotiations between congressional Republicans and Democrats can look like a reckless game of chicken, with both parties speeding toward a cliff and neither willing to give in. But as the deadline for Congress to raise the nation’s debt ceiling draws closer, the two parties are signaling that they’re willing to find a solution to the stalemate that has shutdown the Capitol. Kojo explores the science and strategy behind high-stakes negotiations and asks whether it is possible for a highly polarized Congress to find common ground.
- John Patty Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences, Washington University in Saint Louis
- Catherine Tinsley Professor of Management, McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University; and Executive Director, Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Initiative
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Kojo Nnamdi Show, connecting your neighborhood with the world. We're nearly two weeks into a federal shutdown, and the standoff is beginning to look a lot like the finale of "Rebel Without A Cause," with James Dean and Corey Allen barreling down at full speed towards the cliff, waiting for the other to flinch first. With the government shutdown and debt ceiling looming, neither party wants to go over the cliff.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the longer they dig in, the more perilous the situation becomes. It's a classic game of chicken. And if there wasn't so much at stake, most political scientists and experts in negotiation would be excited to see theories they teach playing out right in front of them in the real world. In fact, the week ahead may play out as real life examples of theoretical games like the "Prisoner's Dilemma" and "Chicken." And they may be seen as textbook examples of how complex agreements are hammered out.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis hour, we're exploring the art of science and political negotiation. And joining us in studio is Catherine Tinsley. She is a Professor of Management at Georgetown University. She is also Executive Director of Georgetown University's Women's Leadership Initiative. Catherine Tinsley, thank you so much for joining us.
DR. CATHERINE TINSLEYThank you.
NNAMDIJoining us from Washington University studios is John Patty. He's a Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri where he also directs the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences. John Patty, thank you for joining us.
DR. JOHN PATTYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're asking our listeners, you that is, to join the conversation if you'd like to at 800-433-8850. Where do you think Republicans and Democrats could identify their shared interests, if you will? 800-433-8850. John Patty, it's hard for a lot of us to believe there is any rational explanation for what has been unfolding on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers allow the government to shut down, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work. They let this go on for nearly two weeks.
NNAMDIAnd now, with three days before the US hits its debt ceiling, Congress is still in a stalemate. But if we dust it off, that old Political Science textbook, could we find some rationale, some reason for all the political theater out there?
PATTYWell, I think that the key distinction between our usual thinking about bargaining and what's going on in Congress right now is that there are more than two parties involved. I think that the usual idea is that this is, for example, Boehner versus Obama, but in reality, Boehner, for example, has a multiple faction problem to solve on his own end. And, in particular, the question's not just what agreement they'll reach, but how they'll actually demonstrate that they've reached an agreement.
NNAMDICatherine, let's figure out, or, what's exactly at play in these negotiations? How do you determine who are the players and what are the bargaining chips?
TINSLEYRight. That's a great question. Of course, when you enter into a negotiation, the first thing that you want to determine is who is the other party, and do they have decision authority? Do they have the authority to actually see a deal through to the end? And one of the problems I think, right now, is that we do have so many shifting players. So, we have, on the Democratic side, we have Obama, and we have the Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats. On the Republican side, you have not just Boehner. Susan Collins, you have Canter, you have Ted Cruz, you have a number of voices.
TINSLEYAnd so one of the things that I talk about in class a lot is when you have these multiple constituencies, you really, sometimes, need to negotiate with yourself first. So, if I was to give any, sort of, advice towards the Republicans, it would be, you know, you have to come up with a little bit more of a unified message as to what it is that you want. We've had a lot of shifting rhetoric about what this negotiation is about.
NNAMDIBut even as we're trying to figure out who the players are, there was a lot of public display by a lot of the people you mentioned. Ted Cruz, Susan Collins, and others, but it seems as if we have now gone back to a, maybe, almost forgotten system of the smoke filled room, where now, it would appear, just Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, Democrat and Republican, are, or were, this weekend anyway, in a room together trying to craft this out. Is that how one recognizes, eventually, who the major players might be?
TINSLEYWell, I actually think that we've gotten here almost because other things have failed. But if I was to offer any other prescriptions here, to both parties, it is that I think that actually the back smoke filled room is probably going to be useful in these situations. So, I think one of the problems is that there is just so much discussion of these negotiations as they're ongoing. It's very difficult for the parties to have a little bit of space from the various constituencies in order to craft some kind of bargain, because, of course, these are being played out not only the policy level, but at the political level too, right?
TINSLEYSo, you know, it's hard to craft good policy if you're trying to also worry about the politics of it all and selling it. So, I actually think that one reason why we made a little bit of progress is because it was a weekend. There was a little bit of quiet in the noise. And there was a little bit of a break in players, and people were able to sort of get together more.
NNAMDIJohn Patty, think we're back in the back room again, even if it's not smoke filled?
PATTYWell, I think that we've touched on some important points. The thing I would add in is that I think that members in the House, in particular, where this is gonna have to start, I think, particularly for the Republicans, they want a narrative that they can tell their voters in the upcoming primary elections leading into the midterm.
PATTYAnd, in particular, my opinion is that the Republicans made a, I think, smart gambit at the beginning to try to push the Continuing Resolution and the debt ceiling together, essentially by saying, look, we need to bargain over some big issues, and I think Boehner and Canter and those who are really thinking the strategy out say, we don't need to do this twice.
PATTYWe need to do it once. And the timing of the debt ceiling, of course, is somewhat endogenous, and so they couldn't do it all at once on October 1st. The problem with voting on a clean continue resolution, I think, for the moderate, shall we say, Republican member, the average member of the conference, was that they were thrust into a position of saying, I'm either for funding the government and inherently for ObamaCare, as it's currently constituted, or I'm against funding the government because I'm so against this one particular program.
PATTYAnd for the average member of the conference, I don't think they actually know what their representative constituent, in the primary elections, really wants at this point. So, I think that the back room, I completely agree. Visibility, right now, is not what they want. The Constitutional Convention was held in secret for a reason.
PATTYBut I do believe that, at some level, the negotiations on both sides, both Democrats and Republicans, are, in essence, trying to come up with a storyline, a series of votes, that make it possible for both liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans to signal to their constituents, their true priorities that they wish to portray in the upcoming election. And I think that that is entirely the cause of the temporary shutdown.
NNAMDIJohn, a lot of people have compared this political standoff in Congress to a simple game of "Chicken." It's a familiar game made famous in popular culture in the James Dean film, "A Rebel Without A Cause," in which James Dean's opponent makes the following challenge.
NNAMDIThe edge, of course, is a cliff. If this whole political stalemate is a game of "Chicken," John Patty, what is the cliff and has Congress, maybe, already sent its cars over the edge?
PATTYWell, that's a good question. I think the best analogy, right now, for the cliff is exactly the debt ceiling, and whether default occurs. And I believe Boehner and Canter and Reid and McConnell and Obama are unanimous in that they don't want default to occur. We'll leave aside the question of what exactly default really means. The interesting aspect of "Chicken" is that, in strategic terms, both parties prefer an asymmetric outcome.
PATTYThey don't want to, both, go off the cliff. However, if the other guy's gonna stop, so to speak, early, they would prefer to be the car that goes a little bit farther to show their masculinity, if you will, or their aggressiveness, their dedication. And I think that that's why this is a good analogy, because I think both sides, in essence, have to come up with some way to tell their particular bases that they went a little farther.
PATTYAnd that's why, I think, it's important that there are these two dimensions, in essence, the idea of the Affordable Care Act versus the idea of the sequestration being relaxed. And I think, and hope, as a voter and citizen, that, in essence, both sides will come to an agreement to look like they lost a little bit on the dimension that their constituents care less about.
NNAMDICatherine Tinsley, John Patty, allow me to stretch the "Chicken" analogy a bit farther. This is a game of "Chicken." Let's imagine it, two cars coming towards each other. One player decides, I'm throwing my steering wheel out the window to prove to the other player that I'm not the one who's gonna swerve. I'm not the one who's gonna compromise. Do players win anything by destroying their own options like that?
TINSLEYWell, I think you're getting to a really important point, which is when you're at this level now, and I'd like to introduce another framework in a minute.
TINSLEYA framework of interest rates and power on which you can resolve disputes. But when you're at this level, which is really a power level, it comes at such a cost. It comes at such a cost to everyone. To all the players, and in this case, it's coming at a great cost to the country. To our reputation, to people right now that aren't receiving their paychecks. I mean, I personally think that this level at which we're playing right now, this power level, is a very dangerous level to be on. And I'd like to see us go back to rights and interests, if we can -- if you wanna -- I can talk about that a little bit.
NNAMDITalk about that theoretical framework, please.
TINSLEYSo, it's an interesting theoretical framework for thinking about disputes. You can resolve any dispute, either at the interest level, the rights level, or at the power level. So, if you take the prototypical two sisters that are fighting over the orange, one way that -- so, there's one orange left in the refrigerator, and each sister wants it. A rights based approach would be to say, well, I bought the orange, so I get the orange. Or, you had the orange last time, so I get the orange this time.
TINSLEYOr, we cut the orange in half. So, a rights based approach really is about fairness, it's about something that's contracted. It's appealing to law. That's how we resolve most disputes, actually, in a the legal system, in the court system. And here, you know, we have certain procedures by which the House and the Senate function. And those are the ways that we resolve most of our disputes. Now, a more interesting way, and a way that's advocated by most negotiation theories, is the interspace level.
TINSLEYAnd so rights are not what you're due by law or legal contract or precedent or fairness norms, but really what you truly want. What is it that you truly are after? What are your real underlying concerns, desires, needs, fears? So, the two sisters fighting over the orange. Maybe one is wanting orange juice and the other one is wanting to make a cake, so one needs the inside part, the other needs the outside part, so they both kind of win. That's the prototypical win/win agreement is when you can resolve underlying interests.
TINSLEYNow, in this case, it's much more difficult to resolve the underlying interests because we have to first ask, what are parties' underlying interests? What are their true interests? And what are they just trying to do, as your other guest so clearly articulated, they're also signaling a lot to their bases for primaries, right? So, what are their true underlying interests? And I actually suspect that we are probably closer than people believe that we are.
TINSLEYSo, we weren't able to -- so, for example, the Republicans weren't able to stop the Affordable Care Act at the rights based level. They tried several times to stop it from going into law, and then, you know, even appealing it to the Supreme Court. You know, that didn't work, so that's when they went to the power level.
TINSLEYIf you can't get resolution at the right space level or the interest space level, you have to escalate to the power. Power in the case of the two sisters in the oranges, you know, one sister just takes the orange and socks the other sister in the eye. Right. (laugh) Or it's threat making, right? One sister says, you know, I know you were out late. I'm going to threaten curfew. You know, threaten to tell mom that you were out late. So that's essentially what the Republicans have done at this point. They have issued these threats.
TINSLEYThe problem with threats -- they can be extraordinarily effective. Threats can be very effective. Power is useful for getting parties to the table to talk. The problem with threats is that they're extraordinarily costly. And here -- if I can say one more thing -- the real problem with the cost of these threats is that they're born asymmetrically. You know, some people are feeling them and some people are not. And the cost of these threats are more distal than they are right now. So, you know, you already are hearing people saying, oh, well, it's not going to be that big of a deal if Thursday comes and we don't have a deal because we're not really going to default right away.
NNAMDIWell, I'd really like to talk, both, about the deadline issue because Thursday's coming pretty quickly, but John Patty, what Catherine also seemed to be describing is a kind of inside outside game. The outside game being that in both cases the parties have to play to their bases, but inside, in fact, they may be much closer than it appears if you're just looking at the outside game. What say you?
PATTYOh, I completely agree. I think on the issues at hand, funding the government and the debt ceiling, I, in my heart, I don't believe there's more than 30 members of Congress who think it's a good idea to be where we are, and, you know, approaching default. And so I completely agree. I think that the difference here with some negotiating situations is that, you know, 2014 is coming up on us very fast, as my daughter keeps reminding me, with Christmas around the corner. And that's an election year. And it's also a particularly important election year, in terms of setting the stage for 2016.
PATTYAnd broadly construed, the actual victor of this particular negotiating episode is kind of zero sum, in the sense that a lot of the members that are key in both the Senate and the House, and especially the ones we haven't heard a lot from, they're facing races with the other party.
PATTYIt's a little complicated and gets even more interesting when you dig a little bit deeper and think about where Boehner and Cantor, for example, may be standing. Because, actually, the real threat to some of their members arguably may come from, say, Tea Party challengers in the primary. And successful Tea Party challengers, particularly electorally untested ones in 2012 did not fair particularly well at the general election.
PATTYAnd so I think that it's really difficult at this point to define clearly for either the Republican or Democratic leadership what a win, particularly a mutually beneficial win looks like.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Anton, in Leesburg, Va. Anton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANTONYes. I think there's an underlying falsehood in the discussion, and that is that there's a quadrillion dollars of hot air in Wall Street and London that needs to be purged. The underlying agenda that they have is austerity to destroy living standards. And we can't tolerate that. We should reinstate the Glass Steagall Act and go back and reverse the de-industrialization since Joan Kennedy. Really deal with the problem, rather than simply give in (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWho is the we of whom we speak, Anton, the Republicans or the Democrats?
ANTONBoth, obviously. They both agree on this swindle of austerity. You know…
ANTONYes. Of course they do. The cutbacks and the idea of cutting back entitlements, holding wages down, letting inflation keep going -- there is inflation now. It's a lie that there's not. And the inflation and the whole breakdown of the system is driven by the bankruptcy, total bankruptcy of the present financial system and banking system. You can cure that…
NNAMDII don't -- hold on a second, Anton, because -- John Patty, Anton, seems to think that the Republicans and Democrats agree on the bankruptcy of the financing system. Do you know of any such agreement?
PATTYNo. I think that there's obviously a lot of good points in terms of thinking about the malaise that affects the financial system. And it's a complicated matter to relate that exactly to default. There is a "hidden agenda" here with respect to -- if we think about the financial stability of the system, default is more than just the credit worthiness of the United States government.
PATTYIt also inherently would become the credit worthiness of the banks that are "to big to fail." But I think that the real problem with financial reform, and in general, entitlement reform, is actually not that the parties disagree, though they may, I think that actually the answers to those questions are highly ambiguous.
PATTYAnd even experts agree that any one dimension of a reform at this point will have highly uncertain affects in terms of the division between, say, inflation and unemployment, not to mention, of course, the impact it will have on the budget, say in five or ten years, where a lot of both moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans have to answer to their constituents.
NNAMDIAnton, thank you for your call. Catherine, I'd like to get back to the issue of deadlines. In a highly polarized Congress, Republicans and Democrats make few deals without the pressure of deadlines. What affect can deadlines have on negotiations?
TINSLEYThat's a great question. So, you know, the good thing about being at the power level or the usefulness of power, is that, as I said, it gets parties to the table and particularly in this case we've got these deadlines. So you've got this 11th hour, or I actually think this is going to go down to the 11th hour and 59 minute before we pull something out of the hat. But this is a terrible context in which to think about crafting grand bargains and big deals. So there's -- in negotiation we also talk about two different dimensions of negotiation.
TINSLEYThere's distributive negotiations, which is what we tend to think of as negotiation, bargaining, haggling, it's allocating a fixed amount of value. And then there's integrative negotiations, which are problem solving, which is where we're actually trying to define what the underlying interests are and see if we can reconcile them, where we're trying to trade off different priorities. And as you are under time constraints, and you're just trying to get a deal, you tend to satisfice, rather than optimize. Which means that you tend to go for, oh, my gosh, is this just something I can live with and I think I can sell to my party?
TINSLEYAnd so there's always a risk -- you know I teach negotiations. I've been teaching it for, you know, almost 20 years now. And in these exercises that we do, where I, of course, know where the whole outcome space is, I can tell you that the people that are under the time pressure and are getting deals at the last minute, are always coming back with deals that leave an enormous amount of value on the table.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, I don't know if any current members of Congress have taken your class. Maybe they needed to, John. Congress blew through the deadline to prevent the sequester cuts from going into place. Now, they've led the deadline to fund the government come and go. How do deadlines work differently in political negotiations than in other kinds of negotiations, like a labor bargaining situation?
PATTYWell, I think that's a very important distinction to draw that you're pointing out. I think at some level, as we've talked about a little bit before, the difference here of course is that these are agents of the true parties to the negotiation, the American people. And presumably, I mean, one of the old saws in political science is that most members of Congress and other elected bodies typically seek reelection because, for example, they sought election in the first place. And I think that complicates things because they're trying to signal confidence and willingness to compromise, ideological purity and a variety of other things to their different voters.
PATTYAnd so deadlines are something that are, first of all, endogenous in this case. Right? They are determined, as lots of people have pointed out on both sides of spectrum, these are sort of fake crisis that the Congress has, for example, imposed the debt ceiling on itself and it could, of course, get rid of that. However, I think Catherine raises a good point that, in terms of the importance of deadlines, I think that the difference here about the deadlines between this and economic negotiation is precisely the fact that these deadlines are self imposed.
PATTYSo oftentimes I think deadlines in most real world situations are imposed by a third party. And here these deadlines are distinctly self imposed. In this case I would argue, right now, by the Republican party. The Democrats -- it's not a partisan thing. The Democrats just happen to be controlling the White House. And the Republicans, they could alleviate the deadline, clearly. And the irony is the ideology that they -- many members are trying to signal is tied to the inherit value of the deadline.
PATTYThe rhetoric is that the debt ceiling is a control on the spending and the financial health of the United States government. Those who are in the trenches know that this is arguably false. However, explaining that to a voter, explaining that this deadline is something that is both important and simultaneously unimportant, is a very hard sales pitch, particularly when you got back to your district and you may get, at most, three or four minutes on the nightly news.
NNAMDIJohn Patty is a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo, where he also directs the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences. Catherine Tinsley is a professor of management at Georgetown University. She is also executive director of Georgetown University's Women's Leadership Initiative. We're talking political negotiations, but we're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on political negotiations with Catherine Tinsley, professor of management at Georgetown University and executive director of Georgetown University's Women's Leadership initiative. John Patty joins us from Washington University studios. He's a professor of political science at Washington University, in St. Louis, Mo.
NNAMDIThere he also directs the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences. We take your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you ever been locked in a negotiating stalemate? How did you and the other party come to a solution? 800-433-8850. This time I'd like to start with the telephones and go to Daniel, in Arlington, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi, Kojo. How is everyone?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
DANIELGreat. So I understand that part of the reason that we're focusing on the negotiations being between two parties is because of the dynamic between Democrats and Republicans. However, we also have pretty substantial evidence that if a vote were to come to the floor that there are actually enough votes between Republicans and Democrats to pass a clean bill without any attachments to ObamaCare just to get the deal done. At some point doesn't the negotiation just break down to a point of negotiating between the Democratic Party and the speaker, John Boehner?
DANIELAnd at what point do you think -- and maybe this is purely hypothetical at this point -- but where John Boehner can kind of look past the trappings of trying to maintain his job and just realize that his role is a little bit more important than what his future ambitions may be?
NNAMDII'll give that to John Patty.
PATTYWell, I think that's a good point. And a lot of people have talked about why Boehner and Cantor aren't bringing up the clean C.R. It's actually in Cantor's hands under a special rule passed on October 1st. But I think the reason is that Boehner doesn't want to have the vote on the clean C.R. So if Boehner could have the clean C.R. pass with a voice vote, I would be willing to bet $10 easily that he would do so and all members would be in favor of that.
PATTYThe problem is that taking a vote on a clean C.R., someone's going to request a recorded vote and every member is going to have to make a yea or nay decision, displayed by their potential challengers to their district as to whether they think that the government should be funded or not, clean of any attempt to modify the Affordable Care Act.
PATTYSo it's not a question of the responsibility to fund the government. It's really a question of how do we fund the government. And, you know, again, I think that all parties agree that a clean C.R. would be fine. It's just the fact that, you know, in a sense, leading up to the negotiations, so to speak, everything got public and the stakes about such a vote are now too high for such a seemingly simple mechanism to be used in good conscious by Boehner and Cantor.
NNAMDICatherine Tinsley, in addition to specific individual desires on the part of elected officials here, what is -- does reputation have to do with this? While neither Democrats nor Republicans want to give up their policy goals, it also seems that they don’t want neither side to look like it's giving in. What weight should a party give to it's reputation in negotiations?
TINSLEYThat's a great question. So I think what all of this illustrating quite well is that any deal that's made is going to set a precedent. All these deals are linked together. And so, you know, there are some people that have been talking about how Obama's willingness to negotiate during his first term, could have been what led us here because, you know, he's the one who said, okay. I'm open. Let's talk about things. And then he just kept getting pushed further and further.
TINSLEYThere is something that is called the Compromise Principle, which is probably pretty self evident to all of your listeners because I'm sure they're really intelligent. But basically, people tend to go to the middle of whatever anchors have been set. And so what I think is happening right now is that you do have this middle, as your caller just mentioned, that people are agreeing on, but they don't want to get there too quickly. So they have to -- this is why I've said before, I think, this is going to be the 11th hour, 59th minute.
TINSLEYAnd I think what is making it more difficult is that, as your other guest talked about -- John Patty -- is that even if we now go past Thursday -- blow past Thursday, there's a lot of discussion, well, that's not really defaulting on our debt yet. That's a technical default and we still have, you know, X amount of weeks until November 1st when all the really big bills come due. So one of the problems right now is that we are going to compromise. We know people are going to come to the middle. And people are incented to set pretty strong anchors in the ground because that means when they compromise they'll be winning more value.
TINSLEYThere's one really interesting model. I don't think that it's something that we can use here, but it's something called Final Offer Arbitration. I don't know. Are you familiar with that model? And it's something that they use in -- they started with baseball salaries. But the idea is that, you know, everybody compromises. They split the difference. They go to the middle. And so that makes each party want to make a very extreme opening offer.
TINSLEYWell, in Final Offer Arbitration, the way it's structured is that each party gets to put a deal before an arbitrator. And the arbitrator will pick one of those deals. So now you want to be just a little bit more reasonable than the other guy, as opposed to more extreme than the other guy.
NNAMDIIndeed, John Patty. Anyone who's gone a market and bargained a $20 item down to $15, knows that you always ask for more than you actually want. But President Obama seems to be calling for a straight deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. Why isn't he bargaining for more?
PATTYWell, that's a good question. And I think one of the mysteries to me in this narrative that we've had over the past month or so, is the relative lack of attention to the role of read on this. I think my guess, if I had to go out on a limb, which I've shown I'm not afraid to do, is that Reid and the Senate Democrats have told Obama, privately, and maybe even publicly, that he can't get more. That at the end of the day Reid has to deal with the possibility of a filibuster. He also has to deal with divisions within his own ranks. And the reason I find it so interesting, from the standpoint of negotiations is that the narrative is that Obama is negotiating.
PATTYAnd as a political scientist who works with institutions, I occasionally just get myself in the weeds and I say, well, Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution makes it pretty clear how this has to go. First, the House and Senate have to present a bill to Obama to sign. And so if I had to think a little bit about Final Offer Arbitration -- which I think Catherine brings up a good point.
PATTYAt some level the problem here is that nobody can actually commit at this point to being, in a sense, the arbitrator or the decider. There are at least three well-defined groups, shall we say, that have to say yes. And they have to say yes in a particular sequence. And neither side of the three can actually delegate credibly to someone else to be the decider.
PATTYThis is a Constitutional question and I think it's -- if you want to see the background of this, the discussion, which is very second order in terms of the press coverage, but you see the parties trying to make a bigger deal of it, these proposals for blue ribbon panels and to give the debt ceiling a thorough thinking-through and discussion and reform by people outside Congress. I argue it goes nowhere precisely because the members of Congress who are trying to avoid these votes say, well, that's just going to end up giving us another hard vote if they do report back.
PATTYSo the Simpson Bowles commission is a good example of this. I mean they can come and come up with a great compromise, but at some level they can't actually say -- the House and Senate can't actually say, we are going to bind ourselves to this third party's final offer. There's no court to appeal to for the voters, for example, to sue Congress and say, well, you made a deal, you have to accept the arbitrators offer at this point. And so wrapping it back around, I think that that's interestingly, arguably maybe, why Obama has taken some of the spotlight as seemingly a party to the negotiations, when in reality he isn't yet.
NNAMDILet's hear from Steve, in Rockville, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHi, Kojo. How are you today?
STEVEGood. I appreciate the conversation, but 99 percent of the talk shows I listen to on this, rarely do I ever see anyone asking someone whoever worked on Capitol Hill, a member, former member or even a staffer like myself, to ask what's going on. And the reason why it's important, with all due deference to your political scientist and negotiating experts, is that if you work up there you realize the world revolves around one person. And that one person is every elected official.
STEVEIt's a highly subjective environment. And the behavior is so focused on themselves that the model of, say, autonomous action versus unity of effort, never materializes. So I would point out Congress is an institution, but it's not an organization. And that the conservatives most likely have been acting without any greater interest, Congress or the country at all. Their sole interest is…
STEVE…in -- let me just say, destabilizing actually the House enough so they don't have anybody controlling them. And that is how their day-to-day lives operate.
NNAMDIWell, Steve, I’m glad you brought that up. The individual ego, if you will, of every member of Congress, because you seem to be suggesting that it undermines everything Robert Axelrod says in the theory of cooperation. Because while House Republicans first wanted to strip funding for the president's healthcare reform, at some point it seems that they adjusted their goals. An Indiana Congressman, Marlin Stutzman, said a couple of weeks ago, "We're not going to get disrespected. We have to get something out of this and I don't know what that even is." That underscores, I guess, the point Steve has been making, John Patty.
PATTYYeah, I think that the point is exactly right. That at this point every member, particularly those who are electorally vulnerable, and, again, I think that the idea of subjective reality is very key here. Members are very, very worried, even when they statistically may not need to be about reelection. They want, as Stutzman said, they want to be able to go back to their district and say I got something. Right? And a lot of this goes back to reputation, as Catherine was talking about earlier. They want to be able to show that they have been working hard. And particularly in the narrative right now…
NNAMDIAnd what Steve ultimately says, this is about me, but go ahead, please.
PATTYYeah, exactly. (laugh) Well, and it's about me and a good reelection seeking member of Congress says me is, of course, my district.
PATTYAnd I hope that the smoke-filled rooms, that may or may not be active right now, are basically trying to come up with a vote that probably truthfully says, look, everybody is actually getting something that they want. And everyone's losing something that they want, too.
NNAMDIIn the final analysis, Catherine Tinsley, is that how negotiations end up?
TINSLEYRight. It's a perfect way of characterizing it. And I completely agree with your other guest, that the way this is going to end is if both sides can save some face. If they could come out of that smoke-filled room and they could say, whew, wow, you know, that other side, they really got a lot, we gave a lot. If both parties can say that, then everybody can go back to their constituents and say, see, look what they said. They said we gave a lot, you know. (laugh) Or they said they gave a lot, you know.
NNAMDICatherine Tinsley is a professor of management at Georgetown University and executive director of Georgetown University's Women's Leadership Initiative. Thank you so much for joining us.
TINSLEYIt was my pleasure.
NNAMDIJohn Patty is a professor of political science at Washington University, in St. Louis, Mo. There he also directs that Center for New Institutional Social Sciences. John Patty, thank you for joining us.
PATTYThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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