Well, maybe it is not quite the Ace of Spades, but there is an argument to be made for the potency of the President’s position on the double-headed monster that is the government shut-down and the question of whether or not to lift the debt ceiling.
But, I apologize for getting ahead of myself. In case you missed it, or didn’t have a TV, or didn’t need a passport, or just generally didn’t care, there is something called a government shut-down. It has been going on, for – yes, about 10 days now. As if that was not enough, there is the double-headed hydra that is the threat of defaulting on the ability of the United States government to borrow money. That’s right, borrow Chinese peoples’ money. Ok, I had to slide that in there, because this weekend I was told a rather humorous joke about the US government shutdown.
I happened to be in Washington DC, with others, for the International Studies Association conference on security. For a capital that has seen less and less of the same, it was an appropriate undertaking. That aside, DC looked like a ghost-town, perhaps because most of its business arises from the federal government. You know things are dire, when the National Mall is shuttered with all kinds of chain-link fences. The way the Park Service had the chain-link fencing placed alluded to the fact that the Mall was not designed to be closed off. So, I went down to the Lincoln Memorial, and even though I could not get inside the grounds, I could not help but wonder what Lincoln would have thought, if he had seen the intransigence of the current government – after all, he was the gentleman who perfected the art of the “team of rivals.”
A number of foreign tourists, however, especially from one nation from whom we borrow so much money, apparently had not gotten the memo, and were in the process of committing federal crimes (by going over the barriers to get a closer shot of Lincoln). My friend joked that they were going to send the pictures to Beijing, to show them why democracy was a very undesirable course of government to take, since, if government was as inefficient as shutting down even public spaces, it was better perhaps to have a benevolent dictatorship. My friend further joked that they were going to send the photos of government shut down to Beijing, and voila! Two days later, Beijing expressed concern at the perceived malfunction of government in these United States and the possibility of not paying them back. Or maybe I exaggerate.
Back to who wants what in Washington. So initially, Republicans wanted to de-fund Obamacare (or, the Affordable Care Act – it is the same thing). The President was having none of that. Really, did anyone believe that the President was going to defund and dismantle one of the signature achievements of his presidency? Reminds me of George Strait, country music singer, having “oceanfront property in Arizona.” It wasn’t going to happen. Ted Cruz, US Senator from the State of Texas, apparently believed so. And threatened to have the state secede, if President Obama did not concede and dismantle his “baby” – literally. Ok, maybe he did not, but who is to tell? So, they went back and forth, back and forth, sent a number of bills to the Senate, Senate sent the bills back reading different. They must have all needed a grammar teacher to sort of ensure that they were following the outline, but apparently no one was.
When you control one half of one branch of a three-tier government, with the head of one branch of government holding that little nasty device called a veto, it is very unlikely that you will get all that you want. If you are especially going after what he treasures most, that is most likely not going to happen. I would think that the notion is self-evident (did they not watch “Lincoln”, explaining Euclid’s common notions, especially common notion #4, that “Things which coincide with one another equal one another.” Obamacare = Obama’s signature achievement and it is totally unprecedented to expect that we can separate the man from the achievement. So, Republicans found that while democrats were lock-step with the president, some of their members were beginning to reconsider the strategy. Especially given that the debate was moving from Obamacare, to the budget, to the possibility of default.
You see, it was good strategy to attach Obamacare to the Continuing Resolution (definition: the thing that Congress does when it is too lazy to come up with a budget, in order to facilitate government to run, which is essentially the practice of funding government at current levels). But the man dug in, and made the point that one had nothing to do with the other. It was pure blackmail, and in addition, the President noted that appropriations for government expenditure arise from the Congress – especially the House of Representatives. So, good strategy, bad timing, bad target. If they had waited till 2016 and asked HRC to defund Obamacare, they might have had much more success.
What baffles me though, is the President’s strategy. It is true, that the man has stuck to his guns, and done the partisan things that most Americans cheer – for example, quickly signing the “pay our military” act, and signing the servicemen death benefits measure that passed a couple of days ago. What baffles me is that while his strategy is working, he should be moving the goal-posts as efficiently as the Republicans have done.
Take the Senate immigration bill. It sits in the house, languishing, probably about to die a slow, certain death, or dismembered to a point where it is barely recognizable as a version of the Senate bill. If I was Mr. Obama, I would have shifted strategy and this is what I might have done:
- -agreed to repeal the Medical Devices tax.
- agreed to delay the penalty for the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act for a year.
In return, the President would have asked for:
- reopening the government without any further ado
- provisions that the Affordable Care Act, in its entirety, would not be defunded or dismantled – at least not in his Presidency
- demanded that the House of Representatives (vote on and) pass the Senate Immigration bill as-is
- demanded a vote on background checks for gun-purchases (especially for individuals diagnosed with mental health illness) and perhaps limiting the magazine capacity in most assault weapons, if not an assault weapons ban.
The objective of this approach might not be to get anything done, but to sort of do a quid-pro-quo back at the house. This would especially be helpful, given that it would divide and rule the Republican House, which seems divided as is. He might not get everything he wants, but who knows, he just might. Try it, Mr. President, try it. It might just be your Ace of Spades.