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Grand Bargain

A “Grand Bargain” refers to a broad, bipartisan agreement that aims to resolve complex and often contentious issues through significant concessions from both sides of the aisle.

Typically deployed in the realm of fiscal policy, it might involve Democrats agreeing to entitlement reform in exchange for Republicans agreeing to revenue increases, either through tax hikes or closing loopholes.

The term underscores the ambitious and comprehensive nature of the deal, which seeks to achieve a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.

More on “Grand Bargain”

A comprehensive agreement between the president and opposition congressional leaders in which both sides make politically painful concessions over taxes, spending, and entitlements.

The term migrated from the foreign policy realm, where a “grand bargain” represented a deal on trade or other matters struck between the United States and other world powers.

The idea of a grand bargain goes back to a 1983 agreement between President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill about rescuing Social Security from insolvency.

The package included tax increases and benefit cuts, which helped provide the pro-gram the $2.7 trillion surplus it would enjoy three decades later.

The deal set a standard of bipartisan compromise in the 1980s that has rarely been seen since.

The Atlantic’s David A. Graham traced its origin in Barack Obama’s administration to a New Yorker profile of Peter Orszag, Obama’s first Office of Management and Budget director, in a May 2009 article that noted Obama’s ambitious young staffers regularly used the phrase to talk about how to achieve their far-reaching agenda.

A grand bargain reportedly nearly materialized in 2011 between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

Depending on who’s retelling the story, the political rivals were tantalizingly close to a deal that would have caused heartburn among their own supporters, but would have been a good deal for the U.S. economy in the long-term.

The Washington Post reported eight months later that Obama offered to put Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cuts on the table in exchange for a tax hike of roughly $100 billion per year over ten years. Meanwhile, government spending would have been cut by roughly three times that amount.

But the deal fell apart—at least in the view of Democrats—because Boehner was unwilling to back tax increases in exchange for the massive cuts in federal spending.

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Grand Bargain” in a sentence

  • The prospects for a Grand Bargain on healthcare dimmed as both parties retreated to their ideological corners, leaving little room for compromise.
  • Some political analysts argue that the era of the Grand Bargain is over, given the extreme polarization that has become the norm in U.S. politics.
  • During the debt ceiling crisis, there was a moment when it looked like a Grand Bargain might emerge, only for negotiations to break down over disagreement on tax reform.