Proving that revenge trumps patriotism, President Barack Obama faces some tough choices when he hosts House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the White House today. Gone are the days when Barack can continue scoring points against his GOP adversaries. While he’s won the PR battle, he’s on the verge of losing the war for the American people who stand to suffer from the first default in U.S. history. When Barack took the reins Jan. 20, 2009 in an historic election, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, seizing the moment with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to finally pass national health care. When he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law March 21, 2010, he did so over Republican objections. On the eve of nearly full implementation Oct. 1, the GOP House lashed out.
Shutting down the government, Obama found out the hard way about stubborn political memory. Republicans recall the indignity of having Obamacare shoved down their throats. When the last midterm election was held Nov. 6, 2010, a new generation of rabidly anti-Obama, anti-Obamacare GOP freshman swept into office, losing the House to the GOP. Without a crystal ball, it wasn’t hard to forecast these anti-big government freshman taking a stand. Schooled in the art of obstruction, the Tea Party-driven freshman class exacted their pound of flesh shutting down the government Oct. 1 and threatening to default the government Oct. 17, when the U.S. Treasury predicts it runs out of cash. Freshman Congressman Rep. Steven King (R-Iowa) admitted recently that he was elected to stop Obamacare. When given the chance, he and his Tea Party friends think default is preferable to Obamacare.
Now Obama faces the toughest diplomacy test of his presidency. Whatever possessed Barack to let diplomacy resolve the Syrian crisis Sept. 10, it pales in comparison to bridging the gap with the GOP. There’s far more at stake for the U.S. and world economy preventing a credit default. Dealing with insurgent GOP conservatives hell-bent on stopping Obamacare, stopping the default should be Barack’s top priority. Gone is luxury of ripping the GOP for extorting concessions out the White House. Facing the reality of a broken government isn’t easy. Because of today’s House rules, it’s possible for an extremist group to shutdown and now default the U.S. government. Whatever the future fix, it’s left for another day. Today’s mission for the White House is to cut a deal with House Republicans to reopen the government and prevent economic default.
When Boehner and McConnell return to the Oval Office, the White House needs to set a conciliatory tone, not one of rehashing old battles. No matter how distasteful, Obama needs to get that House Republicans have the Constitutional authority to wreck the U.S. government. “With only a few days until the government runs out of borrowing authority, the president will make clear the need for Congress to act to pay our bills, and reopen the government,” said an unnamed White House official. There’s no time left for the White House to re-litigate old arguments. House Republicans seek to exercise their Constitutional power to impose their economic agenda. Making concessions is Obama’s only way out short of declaring martial law. Some Constitutional scholars, like Harvard’s Prof. Lawrence Tribe, have urged Obama to assert emergency powers under Article 2 to re-fund the government.
With the clocking running out, Obama’s best hope to avoid default is to offer Boehner and McConnell meaningful concessions. If delaying Obamacare is off limits, Barack could still offer the GOP a delay in implementing the tax on medical devices or reaching somewhere outside Obamacare like reconsidering approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. There’s plenty of room to complete a deal to reopen the government and extend the nation’s debt ceiling. “The president will also reiterate our principles to the leaders: We will not pay a ransom for Congress reopening and raising the debt limit,” said the anonymous White House official, sending the exact wrong message. Winning the battle of the polls or damaging the GOP brand is no longer relevant. There’s no principle left other than negotiating to reopen the government and prevent default. Changing attitudes is the only way out.
Before it’s too late, the White House needs to stop lecturing the GOP about its abuse of Congressional power and cough up some concessions to reopen the government and increase the debt ceiling. With Oct. 17 looming, only real concessions will convince the House to play ball. Since he’s already scuttled the Keystone XL pipeline for no really good reason, revisiting the issue could pay rich dividends. “The president continues to urge the Congress to pass a bill that raises the debt ceiling and lends the certainty to our business and economic needs,” said the unnamed White House official covering the same old ground. When Boehner and McConnell enter the White House door, the president needs to get down to brass tacks, not squawk about what’s right. Offering the GOP some real concessions will go a long way in reopening the government and extending the all-important debt limit.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.