Advancing a Free Society

When halfway isn’t

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The negotiations on the continuing resolution (CR) began yesterday.  The Administration’s new line, echoed by Congressional Democrats, is that their new offer “comes halfway.”

As the players jockey for position they will be throwing out all kinds of confusing numbers. The confusion arises from two factors:

  1. Most of the debate centers around “deltas” rather than levels:  the players are talking about the size of proposed cuts rather than the resulting absolute levels.
  2. The size of a cut depends upon your choice of starting point.  The players are choosing different starting points from which to measure their deltas.

We can eliminate most of this confusion by focusing on proposed spending levels rather than the proposed changes in those levels.

Yesterday President Obama’s new NEC Director, Gene Sperling, presented the Administration’s perspective on the negotiations.  It’s clear the mantra is “With this proposal we have come halfway.”  I expect the President will start saying this soon.

This is called anchoring – trying to frame the negotiations quantitatively to make your own position seem reasonable, and your negotiating partner’s position seem less reasonable.  It appears that neither Congressional Republicans nor the press are buying the Administration’s anchoring.

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