President Obama has adopted the unsustainable position that he will not negotiate with Congress over spending and the debt ceiling. He is betting he can get Republicans to fold without having to give up anything he wants.
That’s why we’re hearing ridiculous claims from him like the one he made speaking to the Business Roundtable this week:
"You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt."
This is nonsense, of course. As Speaker of the House John Boehner pointed out recently, "every major effort to deal with the deficit over the past 30 years has been tied to the debt limit."
Moreover, the implication that Obamacare has "nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt" is simply dishonest. The law accounts for a large part of the budget and we now know that it will cost twice as much in the next ten years as President Obama promised before it was passed.
Despite the massive increase in cost and with evidence of the law’s harmful effects piling up, most Democrats and a substantial number of Republicans seem content to maintain the present course, following the president who says he will not negotiate with Congress.
The truth is the President may soon be forced to negotiate. The Republican House last week boldly passed a spending bill without funding to implement Obamacare, which many commentators are predicting could lead to a government shutdown.
This is a big step. It is very hard to change the status quo in Washington because most people in Washington do not want to change the status quo. If you really want to change things, you need to turn up the heat enough to force the old order to act. That’s how you bring negotiating partners to the table.
In 1995 and 1996, the government closed twice when the Republican Congress and President Clinton could not reach an agreement on spending. It is conventional wisdom in Washington and in the news media that this was a major mistake for Republicans. But that view is completely wrong.
Before we took over the House in 1994, we had promised the voters we would fight for balanced budgets. We proved to the country we were serious about it, and more importantly, we proved to President Clinton that we were serious. The balanced budgets of the next four years were a direct result of those shutdowns. The heat convinced President Clinton that he had to negotiate.
President Obama may be in for a similar surprise after last week’s vote, a first step that could eventually force him to abandon his counterproductive pledge not to negotiate with Congress. If he continues to refuse, the government he runs will close — and the American people will begin to wonder why he refuses to make a deal.
They may not be as firmly on his side as he expects. A Rasmussen poll this week found that 51 percent of Americans favor a partial government shutdown until Congress and the President agree on cuts to spending on the health care law.
When we see this level of conflict in Washington, it’s not because either side is stupid, and it’s not because they’re playing games. It’s because one group wants to keep everything the same and the other group wants change. Eventually the situation will heat up enough and each side will have to negotiate.