Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Negotiations: impediments faced by the “not-so-special” Congressional deficit-cutting committee precluded a deal

News that the Congressional special deficit cutting committee concluded negotiations without coming to a compromise was not unexpected, but still disappointing. Negotiations experts can spot the symptoms of a failed negotiation.

First, they failed to have the right people at the negotiating table. Apparently, the members of the Committee, including co-chairs Senators Patty Murray and Jeb Hensarling, did not know each other that well. Few had the long-time relationship of negotiators like former Senators Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott, who though ideologically opposed, were able to cut deals due to the high degree of trust they had built up over the years by sharing social occasions as well as conducting Senate business together. Further, leaders from both parties (including President Obama) were either unable or unwilling to exert pressure to move the process to an agreement.

Second, they did not make the best use of allotted time, thereby bumping up against the deadline. The Committee wasted several weeks during which they failed to meet and got off to a slow start. When the job became more complicated than originally thought, the lack of time made the negotiations seem futile. If resolution seems unrealistic, negotiators pull back and are less likely to commit the time necessary to go back and persevere.

Third, the BATNAs were more attractive than committing to positions. The knowledge that automatic spending cuts were already in place may have deterred the negotiators from coming up with a new comprehensive agreement. Failing to agree also gave both political parties the alternative of entering the election cycle uncommitted to a particular deal. As the Wall Street Journal reported, in view of these alternatives to a negotiated agreement: “the fear of failure seemed to dim.”

As a result, no deal.

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