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The Price of Politics [Hardcover]

Bob Woodward
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 11 2012
The Price of Politics chronicles the inside story of how President Obama and the U.S. Congress tried, and failed, to restore the American economy and set it on a course to fiscal stability. It spans the three and a half tumultuous years beginning just before Obama’s inauguration in early 2009 and lasting through the summer of 2012.

Woodward pierces the secretive world of Washington policymaking once again, with a close-up story crafted from meeting notes, documents, working papers and interviews with key players, including President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

At the center of The Price of Politics is a high-stakes personal and political struggle between the president and the speaker. The Price of Politics takes the reader through the electric 44 days during the summer of 2011 with day-by-day, often hour-by-hour, accounts as the two attempt a “grand bargain” to cut entitlement spending and increase tax revenue.

As they struggled through the most intense moments of the crisis, each contended with powerful conflicts in his own party. At the prospect of serious budget cuts, Obama told Woodward, “Our friends on the left would howl and act as if we had dismantled the New Deal.” In the House, Boehner was looking over his shoulder, worrying that his second-in-command, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was undermining him in concert with extreme conservative House members and others with ties to the anti-tax Tea Party. At the same time, Boehner described the president as “moaning and groaning and whining and demanding. Threatening. He was pretty desperate.”

The Price of Politics shows why the grand bargain was never reached, and how the president, the speaker and the Congress settled for stopgap measures that delayed any serious deficit reduction until 2013.

With extensive documentation and firsthand accounts, Woodward reveals how the broken relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill drove the U.S. economy to the edge of the fiscal cliff, where it remains.

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“A highly detailed dissection of the debt-limit negotiations. … A remarkable achievement. …Woodward, being Woodward, digs deeper and draws more out of the protagonists than anyone else has.” —Jeff Shesol, The Washington Post

"Groundbreaking" —David Gregory, NBC's Meet the Press

"Takes us inside the room once again." —Charlie Rose

"Fabulous book and great reporting." —Norah O'Donnell, CBS This Morning

“Bob Woodward, in characteristic fashion, does his competitors one better by filling in blanks and providing even finer detail.” —Miranda Green, The Daily Beast

"A book everyone is talking about." —Diane Sawyer, ABC

"A very revealing, insightful book." —Sean Hannity, Fox News, "Hannity"

"Required Reading" —Elizabeth Titus, Politico

“Almost every bookshelf in the U.S. capital holds a thin volume called 13 Days, Robert F. Kennedy’s account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Memo to Washington: Make room on those shelves for Bob Woodward’s latest behind-the-scenes book, The Price of Politics, which might as well have been called 44 Days. The centerpiece is a riveting account of the tedious negotiations to reach a ‘grand bargain’ on the federal budget.” —David M. Shirbman, Bloomberg Businessweek

About the Author

Bob Woodward is an associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked for forty-one years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first for The Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, and later for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has authored or coauthored twelve #1 national nonfiction bestsellers. He has two daughters, Tali and Diana, and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, writer Elsa Walsh.

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
"Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth.
And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power." -- Revelation 9:3 (NKJV)

Anyone who wants to understand why the United States is in a fiscal crisis should read this book. It's a carefully documented tale of people putting their own interests ahead of the citizens. There's also enough arrogance, ignorance, shallowness, and incompetence to make anyone seethe about the people in the other party. As an independent voter, I found myself annoyed by both parties.

Those who like to think of the president as an empty suit who gives good speeches will find evidence to support their beliefs. Those who prefer to see Republicans as willing to stop at nothing to hold down taxes for rich people will find what they are looking for, as well.

Are these truly the political heirs of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt? See what you think.

Nice job, Mr. Woodward! Keep up the good work! I can hardly wait to see what you write about the recent election.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Obama Fails Sept. 18 2012
I've read most of Woodward's books, and while his personal politics are probably centre-left, he's still a good reporter. In this book, he seems to bend over backward to be "balanced", but nonetheless his reporting reveals truths about the President. For example, at the beginning of Obama's term, his chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel is quoted, "We've got the votes, f--- em." This attitude pretty much set the tone for his first 2 years. Near the end of the book, Woodward opines that Reagan and Clinton had challenges too, but their own will prevailed, unlike Barack Obama. I think most reasonable people who read this book will come away with the view that it's time for a new President of the United States.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  393 reviews
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson in the Abstracted Politics of Congress Sept. 19 2012
By Thossy - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bob Woodward's "The Price of Politics" covers the run up and aftermath of the 2011 federal debt limit debacle. I just finished reading the book and want to share my immediate impressions.

Woodward's writing is what I would call reportorial. He takes care to avoid coloring sentences with unnecessary and potentially misleading adjectives. Description is kept to a minimum in the narrative. As a result, the reader must rely on the dialog and recollections of the subjects, some of whom express themselves better than others. I found it helpful to pause at various dates and think about what I was doing at the time and what I recalled about the issues and people involved.

For example, I realized I had developed a strong negative impression of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. I was surprised that he seemed more reasonable and less ideological in the book. Similarly, I was surprised and impressed with Joe Biden's role. In the popular media, he has been relegated to "class clown" status.

Other take-aways: Congress is all about politics and little about policy. Also, we don't have a do-nothing Congress. These men and women are working very hard. But accomplishment is the prize and there is very little of that to go around. And nobody works longer or harder than the staffs of these elected officials.

Woodward's reputation and singular access in the halls of power provide his readers with important, actionable insights. The story is harrowing. The serious national issues continue to fester. Many of the people in "The Price of Politics" are up for reelection and your vote may change after reading it.
152 of 170 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Political Dynamics of Negotiation Sept. 12 2012
By Book Shark - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Price of Politics by Bob Woodward

"The Price of Politics" is an even-handed book about the handling of the economic crisis under the Obama administration. It examines the struggle between President Obama and the U.S. Congress to manage federal spending and tax policy during his tenure. Associate editor at the Washington Post for 41 years and author extraordinaire, Bob Woodward has provided the reader with a forthright, blunt examination of this administration's handling of the economy. This insightful 448-page book is composed of forty unnamed chapters.

1. Excellent prose, great insight from an accomplished author of Woodward's caliber.
2. Cast of characters provided, masterful ability to narrate the interactions between all the players. One thing that stands out about this over books of this ilk is the ability of Woodward to capture not only the issues regarding policy but the human element. The emotions, the ups and downs, the inner workings of dealing with complicated issues that have a direct impact on American lives and their own political careers.
3. In many ways this book provides a character study of the two main characters of this book: President Obama and Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Woodward did a remarkable job of being as fair as possible and in several instances acknowledged where the accounts may have differed. The main players don't come out smelling like roses either; there are many thorns along the way.
4. President Obama's shortcomings particularly dealing with the business community and the failings of congressional Republicans.
5. Timely political topic in the hands of an accomplished author with access. He treats the subject matter with utmost respect.
6. A forthright, even-handed book that takes no prisoners. It's about the story; it's about capturing what actually happened and not about inserting oneself into the story.
7. The author's ability to penetrate the political haze and get to the bottom of the stories. The ability to work through all the interviews, notes and observations and make reasonable and fair assessments is a rare skill indeed.
8. The key issues of taxes and entitlement reform in details. Each party makes it clear where they stand. Republicans would not budge on tax increases while Democrats had big issues with cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Furthermore, the Republican stance that revenue can be generated via tax reform ala Reagan.
9. The long and I mean long tortuous ways of budget negotiations. Insight into Washington deal making and the importance of leverage. The president's stance of being opposed to a short-term deal. The political implications.
10. The unthinkable prospect of a debt default. The real scoop on raising the debt limit. The debates over the debt ceiling and matters of leverage. The implications.
11. The issue of letting the tax cuts expire and the implications.
12. How legislative deals are usually handled versus how they were actually attempted.
13. The partisan divide from the inside. A look at what drives each party and what drives each player. Also the inner dynamics of party members, Cantor versus Boehner.
14. The practical partisan divide. That is, the issues of contention regarding federal spending and how each party would tackle the problems. The depth of the divide is captured in numbers and sentiments. The art of splitting hairs...spin.
15. Captures the presidential struggle to "dominate" Congress, to give the appearance of having control.
16. The battle of the plans.
17. The failure of the supercommittee...the result of ideological rigidity.
18. Links worked like a charm. Well cited.

1. The book is very detailed, excruciating so at times which actually lends to its credibility but it's also repetitious. How many times and ways do I have to read that the Democrats won't do hard things on entitlements until the Republicans are willing to raise taxes/revenues?
2. No formal bibliography though to be fair this book was based mainly on interviews, notes and observations.
3. Charts and illustrations would have added value. Mr. Woodward's intent in this was mainly to capture the emotions behind the inner-workings of handling federal spending and tax policy and not to interfere with the narration but this could have been accomplished via appendices.
4. There are forty unnamed chapters which makes it difficult to jump or refer back to a chapter of interest.
5. There are sections of this book that will test the patience of the reader which reflects on the frustrations of dealing with the budgetary process. All the games and the posturing.

In summary, this book is an even-handed examination of handling federal spending. Mr. Woodward's ability to relay a story in minute details is impressive and captures the essence of the political struggle from both parties to handle the economy. Where this book excels is relaying the inner workings between the main characters, the back and forth, the prodding, the emotions involved, the incessant amount of meetings, in short the handling of complicated and stressful negotiations, it's really about the political dynamics of negotiation. That being said, the book will test your patience. The incessant back and forth over the same issues may tire you out but reflects the budgetary process and the partisan divide. The book will upset you, frustrate you no matter what side of the political aisle you are on but it will provide you with rare insights into the politics of federal spending and tax policy. It's a book that is definitely worth reading with reservations duly noted.

Further recommendations: "Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget" by David Wessel, "The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take" by Bruce Bartlett, "White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You" by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, "End This Depression Now!" by Paul Krugman, "Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, "Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else" by David Cay Johnston, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future" by Robert B. Reich, "Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (Vintage)" by Jeff Madrick, "The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street" by Robert Sheer, "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality" by Richard Heinberg and "The Crash Course" by Chris Martenson. All these books have been reviewed by yours truly, check for my tag, "Book Shark Review".
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics as a Sporting Event Sept. 30 2012
By Thomas M. Magee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book has something for everyone, no matter what your point of view. It will open up your eyes to how bad things are in Washington. The author, Bob Woodward captures the budget events of 2011 in almost sickening detail. He goes about doing that much the way he describes foreign policy events in his other books. He puts you in the room with the principle leaders.

The book provides a blow by blow event of the budget and debt negotiations between Congress and the President in 2011. You learn about the various motivations and pressures that motivated each party and the White House. This description of events is much like a sporting event. This side offers this, the other side offers that and so on and so on. The down side of this method is you miss some of the big picture of events. You won't be able to see the forest through the trees kind of situation.

That blow by blow routine does get a little boring through the first part of it. Stick with it, the ending makes it all worth the work. I think a reader will gain a lot through the book. That is where your eyes will open through the collective story.

You will learn about the various personalities on both sides via what they did and a little through what they say in the book. I think you will learn things about people that the media and PR consultants miss. This side of them will shock you and not sit with your preset ideas.

You will also leave the book feeling a bit depressed. The book will make you re-look at those events of 2011. You will have to make your own analysis. Bob is sort of weak on that description. You realize how close we all came to disaster back then. The news then made it seem like everyone involved wanted the 11th hour deal for theatrics. The book makes you realize that deal was by luck, not by intent.

Through the book you will think we are in trouble. The book makes it very clear how difficult the budget situation is. Both sides were unable to come to a deal due to several political reasons. It is like democracy may have come to an end. It seems each party's collective pride prevents us from coming to a collective deal.

I found there were two big things that jumped out of the book. One was the description of the White House and President Obama. Bob Woodward's own words said "It seems no one is in charge". Any reader will pick that up when you read it. It seems that policy was all over the map. Points were changing all the time. For example in the book after the President gets a deal with the Speaker he calls back and ups the stakes. That killed a deal. The other fact is how the nature of the budget problem evolves around various sacred cows of medicare, social security, and other programs. That was all that the negotiators talked about. That is where all of the money is. People tend to talk about about the easy things like parties in Vegas but that isn't where the money is. The big issues is what is tying up the country and seem not to be able to be fixed.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Steven H Propp - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Woodward begins this 2012 book by saying, "This book examines the struggle between President Obama and the United States Congress to manage federal spending and tax policy for the three and one half years between 2009 and the summer of 2012. More than half the book focuses on the intense 44-day crisis in June and July 2011 when the United States came to the brink of a potentially catastrophic default on its debt." (Pg. xiii)

At a January 2009 meeting with Republican congressional leaders, President Obama told Eric Cantor, "I can go it alone... but I want to come together. Look at the polls. The polls are pretty good for me right now... Elections have consequences... And Eric, I won... So on that, I trump you." (Pg. 14) About the 2009 stimulus bill, Woodward notes that "whenever any Republican tried to make changes, [Chief of Staff Rahm] Emanuel's response was... 'We have the votes. F__k 'em.' This was the bulldozing that Obama had promised to avoid." (Pg. 16)

He notes, "What really surprised Cantor, though, was how badly the White House had played what should have been a winning hand... he had unified and energized the losers. Not only had he missed the opportunity to get the Republicans into the boat with him, he had actually pushed them away. The failure was one of human relations. There had been no sincere contact, no inclusiveness, no real listening." (Pg. 22) But after the 2010 midterm elections, he observes, "But when you need friends, it's too late to make them... The tables had turned. They had the votes." (Pg. 61)

Later, he interprets Paul Ryan's reaction to an Obama speech: "This was what he called 'game-on demagoguery.' Ryan's worst suspicions about the president were realized: Obama wasn't just phoning it in for [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid, he really believed this stuff... Ryan felt betrayed. He'd expected an olive branch. What he got was the finger." (Pg. 104, 106) Woodward records, "Obama's inner circle knew that ... a large number of Boehner's rank and file---the extreme Tea Partiers---were dangerously irresponsible... 'I have some sympathy for him.' the president repeated. 'You see how crazy these people are.... His motivation is pure... He just can't control the forces in his caucus now.'" (Pg. 135)

Woodward concludes, "The debt limit crisis was a time of peril for the United States... you cannot help but conclude that neither President Obama nor Speaker Boehner handled it particularly well... Rather than fixing the problem, they postponed it... President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition. But presidents work their will... Obama has not... Americans are now left with a still struggling economy in the midst of a presidential election. It is a world of the status quo, only worse." (Pg. 378-380)

Primarily critical of the Obama administration, although sometimes also of the Republican leadership, this is a detailed (sometimes TOO much so) account that will be of interest to political junkies overwhere.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should Be Required Reading for an Educated Electorate Oct. 21 2012
By Avid Reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I wanted some clear and straight-forward information about the US fiscal situation, and how it came to be. I am frankly tired of all the sound-bite information that is overwhelmingly available, and most importantly, I wanted the information in the context of the process down in Washington. And I wanted it from a source that I respect. This book absolutely fits the bill, spanning 2009 to mid-2012.

As Bob Woodward notes in the very beginning: "Nearly all the information in this book comes from interviews with key White House and congressional officials. Some provided documents, contemporaneous meeting notes, working papers, diaries, emails, transcripts and chronologies. Democrats and Republicans co-operated in about equal amounts."

What is remarkable is that Mr. Woodward injects almost none of his own opinion into the chronology. Anyone who has ever participated in a complex negotiation can easily dive right in and get drawn into reading for long stretches. As Mr. Woodward concludes: "There was so much effort, most of it sincere, but so little result." The picture painted from 2009 to this year is one of congressional leadership wondering how much support they can get from their caucuses as they work their way through various proposed deals. Likewise, there are secret offers, secret parallel negotiations, and attempts to retrade deals that were made. The current presidential election as a looming deadline casts a pall over much of the process. The ultimate directive of serving the people and advancing the interests of the United States seem to be lost in the process. This is how you get to a point where the House passes a year-long extension to the payroll tax cut, and the leadership is then castigated because it doesn't support a 2 month extension instead. Convoluted, ineffective, and detrimental to the US and its people. There is a severe shortage of leadership in Washington.

This is an important book that every citizen really should read. I have recommended it time and time again.

Thank you, Mr. Woodward.
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