Lousy Negotiator-in-Chief strikes again (updated)

For a smart guy, President Barack Obama has surprisingly poor bargaining skills. Putting lots of tax cuts in the too-small stimulus without insisting on Republican concessions made the Recovery Act less stimulative but failed to win bipartisan support for it. Expanding off-shore oil drilling without gaining anything concrete from Republicans did nothing to advance a comprehensive energy bill.

Despite those failures, Obama still seems unable to start negotiations from a position of strength. To set the tone for his first post-election meeting with Congressional Republican leaders, the president announced a new policy designed to appeal to conservatives, with no strings attached. During yesterday’s meeting, he even apologized to top Republicans for not reaching out to them more.

Naturally, Republicans haven’t made any policy gestures toward the president this week, nor have they apologized for not working constructively with him.

Millions of Americans will pay the price for Obama’s inability to grasp basic negotiating tactics.

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"Making the case" vs. a line in the sand

UPDATE: Two professional negotiators, Jerome a Paris and BenGoshi, discuss Obama’s negotiating strategy on health care reform.

Let’s say I’m trying to sell my house, and I have an interested buyer. I could tell the buyer one of two things:

1. The minimum offer I’ll consider for this house is $300,000.

2. This house is worth at least $300,000. Compared to the house down the street that went for $280,000, this house has an extra bedroom and a fully remodeled kitchen. In fact, my house has a bigger yard and more closet space than one in the neighborhood that sold for $310,000. Also, we just added more insulation in the attic and installed triple-pane windows, so you’ll spend less on utility bills than you would in a different house this size. Plus, this house is within walking distance of a good elementary school. But the bottom line is, my mortgage is expensive, and I need to sell my house this month. If you can’t pay me $300,000, I’m willing to consider another fair offer.

Which message is more likely to get me the offer I want: the one justifying my asking price, or the one making clear that I won’t settle for less?

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