“The American people expect in Washington, when we have a crisis like this, that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation.”
– House Speaker John Boehner, Sunday, on ABC’c This Week with George Stephanopoulos
Really, Mr. Speaker? That may be true if it were a crisis caused by uncontrollable or unforeseen forces, but this is a crisis you created, by allowing a small number of stubborn, unfit-to-govern conservatives to push you into holding the government hostage over your party’s profound dislike for President Obama and his signature healthcare law.
Polls show sixty-five percent of the American people, including half of the ones who identify themselves as Republicans (a group which has lost considerable support since the 2012 election), are overwhelmingly against Congress using its power to control government funding as leverage against the Affordable Care Act. There’s no doubt who the American people see as being responsible for this crisis, Mr. Boehner – you and the Republican led House of Representatives.
Yet the latest GOP proposal, revealed Thursday, to lift the debt ceiling for only six weeks, still precludes resolving the ten-day-old government shutdown without talking to the White House and Senate Democrats about making changes to Obamacare, and other GOP budgetary pet peeves. Boehner calls it “a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what [President Obama has] demanded.”
Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House daily briefing, Thursday, the president still insists keeping government agencies shuttered on the condition of agreeing to cuts to the Affordable Care Act and entitlement programs, and changing the tax code, amounts to paying a “ransom in exchange for the Republicans in the House doing their job,” something Obama has, so far, said he will not abide.
There is a political trap in Speaker Boehner’s “good faith” proposal, for Democrats, and it’s one based on what many Americans may understand about what’s going on in Washington, right now. Although we would all prefer to think otherwise, there’s a good chance the American people do not, for the most part, understand the difference between the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. To them, the distinction between the two is wonky nuance (even though they are completely different things), and they’ll assume that with the GOP offer, Boehner’s “crisis” is over.
After all, part of the DC cacophony the last two weeks has been the Senate Democrats screaming that they have been calling for a conference for months to reconcile, in “regular order,” their own budget, which they passed earlier this year, with the bill passed by the Republican House around the same time. If President Obama insists he will not sit down with Republicans to discuss changes to the budget until there’s a continuing resolution, it could be that people will then view Obama and the Democrats as being the chief obstructionists, and shift the blame to them.
According to Politico’s report of Thursday night’s White House meeting between Obama and Republican House members to discuss Boehner’s proposal, that may be the only way the GOP has to claw its way out of the corner in which it has painted itself:
“House Republicans told Obama at the White House that they could reopen the federal government by early next week if the president and Senate Democrats agree to their debt-ceiling proposal. After the debt ceiling is lifted, a House GOP aide said they would seek some additional concessions in a government funding bill.
“Obama repeatedly pressed House Republicans to open the government, asking them ‘what’s it going to take to’ end the shutdown, those sources said. The meeting was described by both sides as cordial but inconclusive.”
Read that as “no change,” except that even House Republicans are trying to find a way out of the disapproval of the majority of Americans.
To be sure, some of the more reasonable voices are the ones getting the least attention in this mess, and I don’t mean those, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who see repealing the ACA’s medical device tax as a way toward compromise. (That’s not reasonableness; that’s pimping your vote for an industry.) Still, at least they see the value of trying to find a solution to the shutdown as well as raising the debt ceiling.
“I’d like to do both,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters. “I don’t think we’re serving any policy or political goals by keeping the government shut down.”
The Senate has already passed a non-binding resolution that would require budgets be passed on a biennial basis, in odd number years, so they avoid election year grandstanding. Yes, 2013 is an odd number year, and there is definitely some grandstanding going on, but that’s because no budget has passed both Houses of Congress in years. The Republican sponsor of the Senate proposal, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), calls this inevitable quagmire a “conundrum.”
“It’s the right way to do business and it ends the necessity of having continuing resolutions at the last minute because you didn’t do our job,” he said. “Let’s face it: We’re here today in the conundrum we’re in because we did not do our jobs.” At least some Senate Republicans don’t have trouble finding agreement with the president. Now, if they can only convince their comrades in the House to do their own job.