For the second week in a row both President Barack Obama and the Republican Party devoted their weekly addresses released on Saturday morning, Oct. 12, 2013 to the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. The addresses were delivered over a day after the President started discussions Congress with White House meetings on Thursday and Friday. Obama was specifically negotiating with Republicans in the House of Representatives, but later he refused the House Republicans initial proposal for a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling; however both sides vowed to keep discussions open.
President Obama's weekly address entitled "Let’s Get Back to the Work of the American People" was the first time the President publicly commented on the debt deal proposal. At first he gave praise to the House Republicans for their proposed debt ceiling plan, which they presented to the President at their White House meeting with him on Thursday afternoon. Later in his address reverted back to his month old rhetoric blaming the GOP for any potential default and the economic fallout that would result.
Obama gave the House GOP his only affirmative comment about them at the start of his address, saying;"It's a positive development that House Republicans have agreed on the need to avoid the economic consequences of not meeting our country's commitments. Because once the debt ceiling is raised, and the shutdown is over, there's a lot we can accomplish together." The President again stated that actual negotiations would really only happen after the two crises are over with.
The President finally explained the reasons for not accepting the GOP's deal, saying; "But one thing we have to agree on is that there is no good reason anyone should keep suffering through this shutdown…. And it wouldn't be wise, as some suggest, to just kick the debt ceiling can down the road for a couple months, and flirt with a first-ever intentional default right in the middle of the holiday shopping season."
The rest of the address reiterated the same negative and blamed filled rhetoric, albeit a little less insulting that the President used throughout the government shutdown. Obama still cast the blame for the entire crisis on the Republicans, stating that a number times in his address; "Because damage to America's sterling credit rating wouldn't just cause global markets to go haywire; it would become more expensive for everyone in America to borrow money…. It would amount to a new tax - a Republican default tax - on every family and business in America."
Continuing President Obama again used one his favorite words to describe Republican concessions, extortion, stating; "Manufacturing crises to extract massive concessions isn't how our democracy works, and we have to stop it. Politics is a battle of ideas, but you advance those ideas through elections and legislation - not extortion…. A political party is risking default for the first time since the 1700s. This is not normal."
Concluding the President urged Congress to end the crises, stating; "So let's pass a budget, put people back to work, and end this Republican shutdown. Let's pay our bills, and prevent an economic shutdown."
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif delivered the Republican weekly address entitled "Taking Steps to Reopen the Government." Rep. McKeon's address focused on compromise between Congress and the President to both reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling limit.
He emphasized passing the partial spending bills the House has proposed to help alleviate the shutdown, and they could help like the "Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act" that the Senate passed unanimously giving "death gratuity payments" to military families. The President however, opposes the majority of this type of piecemeal legislation.
McKeon stressed the importance of negotiations between the President and Congress, stating; "After all, sitting down and resolving our differences is exactly what Americans expect their leaders to do - especially at times like this."
The California Representative also explained the Republicans' demands, the provisions they want to pass with both the spending bill and to raise the debt ceiling. McKeon explained; "It's about making sure there's fairness for everyone under the president's health care law - so that hardworking people like you get the same relief big businesses have received…. "It's about stemming the tide of debt and deficits that threatens to wash out an entire generation's opportunities."
The House members presented a refined proposal at their meeting with the President, which was essentially a clean debt ceiling bill coupled with the Obama's pledge to negotiate on spending cuts and tax reform. The plan guaranteed the government would not default on their loans with the deadline pushed back from Oct. 17 to Nov. 22. However, the plan did not include a solution to end the government shutdown, only stating a plan would made after the debt ceiling short-term extension was agreed upon. The President refused the deal, because the House GOP did not include a plan to reopen the government.
The President and Republican House agreed to continue discussions after their White House meeting, even after Obama refused their debt plan. On Friday afternoon, Oct. 11 the President again spoke with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, promising to keep the lines of communication open. Many believed it would lead to end of the impasse by the end of the weekend, and that a deal was in sight. After over a day of negotiations, however, they were unable to come to an agreement.
The Republicans in the Senate had been working on a bill based on a proposal by moderate Republican Susan Collins, R-ME, who has devised a compromise solution that would end the shutdown by funding the government for six-months, raise the debt limit until January, delay the medical device tax for two years, require anybody receiving Obamacare subsidies to prove their income and allow agencies to determine how to allocate the sequester spending cuts. Sen. Collins speaking on her plan on Friday stated; "I believe that still gives us plenty of leverage to work out a long-term fiscal plan, but it removes the threat of an immediate default."
The Senate Republicans were the last group to meet with President Obama at the White House on Friday, Oct 11. Sen. Collins speaking to the press after the meeting said; "It was a good exchange but it was an inconclusive exchange…. He may not want to call it a negotiation. That's what I would call it and I do view that as progress." Although she also indicated that Obama did not specify what kind of proposal he would agree to.
Republican Senators reaction to the meeting was that they were pleased and relieved that the President is finally having discussions with Congress and especially Republicans about the shutdown and debt ceiling. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY told reporters; "I think we had a very useful meeting with the president. He spent a lot of time with us, and interacted with our members and now we're back here to actually work on trying to get a solution on a bipartisan basis."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaking at the daily press briefing on Friday, Oct 11 stated, the President and House Republicans are "obviously in a better place than we were a few days ago in terms of the constructive approach that we've seen of late…. We're talking about a very fluid situation." In order to show the President is the more open than the Republicans towards finding a solution, Carney stated; "We're listening and we're talking," and that Obama is "willing to look at any proposal."
The government has been partially shutdown since the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1. The debt ceiling of $16.7 trillion will also reach its limit on Oct. 17, without passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling limit the U.S. will default on its loans.
At the core of the conflict is the Democratic Senate and President Obama wanting a "clean bill," a stop-gap spending bill referred to as a Continuing Resolution (CR) without out any provisions attached. The President has also been insisting on a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling limit, although he is now open to a short term debt raise as long as there are no strings attached.
While the Republican controlled House of Representatives at this point primarily want the individual mandate provision of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act delayed in a bill reopening the government, allowing Americans the option to maintain their present healthcare coverage without any penalties imposed.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees are furloughed as a result of the shutdown out of 2 million, and will also affect all aspects of the government at a time when the fragile economy is just starting to recover.
There have been a total of 17 prior government shutdowns in American history between the 1970s and 1990s with the December-January, 1995-1996 shutdown being the longest clocking in at 21 days. Then as now a Democratic President Bill Clinton was in a fierce ideological battle with a Republican House of Representatives.
With the President's still hostile and blaming rhetoric in his weekly address, even if he is doing Congressional Republicans a favor by meeting and speaking with them, he is not truly negotiating with them, it is more public relations to ensure he does get blamed by the American public.
Negotiations implies compromise, President Obama is not compromising and giving in at all for the greater good of making a deal to save the economy. One has to wonder what will finally take for Obama to make a deal with Republicans. Will they have wave the white flag of surrender as Boehner mentioned this past week, and give in entirely to President's clean bills and his all or nothing approach or is he going to compromise and finally end the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Let’s Get Back to the Work of the American People, Oct. 12, 2013 | Download mp4 | Download mp3
- GOP Weekly Address: Taking Steps to Reopen the Government, Oct. 12, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.