Merriam-Webster defines a stutter-step as "a momentary hesitation or false step by a runner (as in football) done to fake a defender out of position."
It can also apply in negotiations, as in those that will determine the content and funding for "Infrastructure Protection."
Given my five years as President Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador negotiating with the Soviet Union on defense and space issues at the Nuclear and Space Talks, I am quite familiar with negotiating "stutter-steps"— e.g., two steps forward and one step backward.
The Soviets walked out of negotiations on nuclear weapons following our deployment of the Pershing Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles in five NATO nations to counter the Soviet SS-20 IRBMs that were threatening NATO.
They also were trying to influence elections in the United States and among our European Allies. After key NATO leaders were re-elected, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) brought the Soviets back to the negotiating table because they could not compete with the then advancing U.S. technology.
This condition gave us significant negotiating leverage as the Soviets sought to block our ballistic missile defense (BMD) research and development — especially space-based defenses. We successfully rejected those efforts, while achieving treaties to reduce offensive nuclear forces — President Reagan’s objective.
We now have ground-based and sea-based BMD systems deployed around the world—but still no space-based BMD systems, even though SDI produced concepts that could have been built three decades ago.
We now need such space defenses, as we play catch-up with China. But the Clinton administration killed those SDI programs, and no subsequent administration has revived them — though our new Space Force should be doing so. Consider a "stutter-step" perspective in reviewing the unfolding negotiations on Infrastructure Protection issues between President Biden and Republican senators.
The negotiating dynamics over the past few weeks first seemed to converge and then came apart after it appeared that agreement had been reached, as noted in my June 9th Newsmax Article.
From my perspective, the hiatus in those negotiations provided hope that continuing negotiations could include funds to protect the electric power grid against existential threats to all Americans.
There are two defining issues . . . what is to be called "infrastructure" and how much should be appropriated to fund improving what passes the "infrastructure" definition. Protecting the electric grid, which has been essential infrastructure for many decades, is not yet to be funded as infrastructure, while overall funding seems to be on a converging track. This is a serious error in my opinion, because losing electricity for an extended period — as is possible if the grid is not protected—is an existential threat, as discussed in my June 9th article. Needed is a "stutter-step" forward.
President Biden seems intent on developing renewable energy. But in the near-term, we will be heavily dependent on a viable electric grid — that currently is vulnerable to natural and manmade electromagnetic threats. We continue to ignore this vulnerability at our peril.
President Biden’s first proposed $2.2 trillion for an infrastructure package and the first Republican position was for $528 billion.
Then as the negotiations proceeded, the President’s demand seemed to approach something just over $1 trillion and the Republicans were just under $1 trillion. You would think that the parties could have split the difference — but they didn’t.
As discussed by Seung Min Kim and Tyler Pager in their June 8 article in The Washington Post, White House, Capito Infrastructure Talks Collapse, President Biden changed his mind and the venue for his negotiations. Notably, they report that several senior Republican senators had joined Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W. Va., in meetings with the President Biden when it was thought that agreement was close. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reportedly said the President "had lots of broad requests for things the American people don’t see as infrastructure, and he never backed away from his desire to want to raise taxes."
And Sen. Capito clamed afterward that "the president and his team were moving the goalposts on me," as reported in the June 12th Parkersburg News and Sentinel.
So, the negotiating dynamics have changed — the Republicans being led by Sen. Capito were replaced by a group of 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans who apparently had been meeting for some time: Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin III, D-W. Va., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mark R. Warner, D-Va.
They were near another trillion dollar proposal only two days after "The 10" were chosen to replace Sen. Capito’s effort. And almost concurrent reports that this bipartisan group had already agreed on a $1.2 trillion "bipartisan" deal indicated this group had been meeting for some time — as President Biden no-doubt knew.
So, a bipartisan result of this "new" negotiation that satisfies President Biden seems plausible. But as always is the case in negotiations, "The Devil is in the details!"
His negotiations with the Senate should decide the outcome.
The Democrats control the House and the White House, while the Senate is equally divided — and Vice President Kamala Harris has the deciding vote in case of a 50-50 tie.
Republican senators can avoid that situation if they meet demands of at least one Democrat to vote with them, perhaps especially in what limits agreement on what constitutes "traditional" infrastructure.
To date, that definition leaves out the electric grid that has been around for decades.
As that famous New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra, famously quipped, "It ain’t over 'till it’s over."
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.
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