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Does Paul Ryan’s Budget Put Democrats at a Disadvantage?

Conventional wisdom says that whoever frames an issue first has the advantage over his opponents.  So, does Paul Ryan’s first offer of the budget give him the advantage over Obama and the Democrats?  When it comes to negotiation, most business execs say that you should never make the first offer.  When the other party makes the first offer, it provides valuable information and tells you where they’re coming from. But there is also a large school of execs who say that you should always make the first offer because that will establish an anchor.  When you make the first offer, the anchor gives you control of the dialogue and makes it far more possible to negotiate on your own terms.  Pundits from the leading newspapers and cable channels tend to argue with the latter group of execs. They say that by waiting for the Republicans, Obama has lost leadership of the budget and given it over to the Republicans.  That, of course, sets up a conflict and makes for good press.The right answer to my question is hardly surprising to those who know a trick question when they see it: It all depends.  Although the person who makes the first proposal focuses the other negotiators’ attention and expectations, the most important issue is how much information you have about your opponents’ interests, proposal, evidence and reasoning. Knowing your opponent’s key values and the point at which an agreement is impossible is just one major issue.  On the flip side, negotiators also want as much information as possible about the other’s interests and areas of possible agreement.  Top negotiators refer to that as ZOPA: the zone of possible agreement.  Although the Republicans and pundits like to say that Obama has rolled over, if you’ve paid close attention to his speeches and info from the White House, his reasoning, evidence and proposal have been fairly opaque.  He’s rejected the classic executive approach and let the Republicans frame the issue from their perspective.  Although the Republicans have been fairly open from the get-go, they’ve talked in as many generalities as Obama, until, that is, Ryan put the Republican proposal on the table. Bitch all they want, Obama has the bully pulpit and veto power.  Furthermore, the Republicans are largely in the dark regarding the President’s real interests and perspectives.  Not an enviable position.  So I disagree with Krugman, Dionne and a number of the Democrats about Obama’s strategy.  On balance, and based on negotiating strategy, I believe that Obama has the upper hand.I’d suggest that before the President’s speech on Wednesday PM, you check over some of the best articles from a diverse perspective.  Here are the links for your perusal.David Brooks:  The Ryan Journey.Paul Krugman: Obama is Missing.Ross Douthat: Budgeting for Opportunity.E. J. Dionne: Where’s Obama’s Resolve on the Budget Battle?Fareed Zakaria: The Ryan Budget.The Economist: The Real Fight Begins, and 70 or Bust!Dan Balz: Can Obama cut the budget and keep Democrats happy?Businessweek: The More You Make the Less You Pay.If you want to bone up on negotiation, few can match Malhotra and Bazerman, Negotiation Genius.
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