President Obama on Thursday slammed his Republican opponents in the recent US fiscal crisis, saying they had hurt the economy and America’s image by shutting down the government and threatening national default in an attempt to defund Obamacare.
“Let’s be clear: there are no winners here,” Obama said in White House remarks following the morning’s reopening of the federal government.
Responsible Republicans and Democrats came together to negotiate an end to the impasse, he said. But that did not rule out future “self-manufactured” political crises.
“To all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change,” said the president.
Obama said that politicians should stop focusing on lobbyists, bloggers, talking heads, and “professional activists who profit from conflict” to focus on creating jobs and getting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
Specifically, he said Washington should now focus on a “balanced approach to a responsible budget,” passage of immigration reform, and finishing a farm bill.
“Those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now. And we could get them done by the end of the year if our focus is on what’s good for the American people,” said the president.
Obama went on to praise the work of furloughed government workers, saying they care for seniors and veterans, ensure workplaces, food, and toys are safe, and other numerous vital services.
He said he recognizes that some people disagree vehemently with his policies. But disagreement needs to be resolved in the normal democratic process, he said.
“You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it,” he said.
Obama’s tough tone was hard to miss. He wasn’t singing “Kumbaya” and asking everyone to join hands. His message, in essence, was this: I won fair and square within the normal democratic process. If you don’t like it, take back the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, if you can.
Some on the right saw this as Obama waving his victory in the face of conservative Republicans after outmaneuvering them on the shutdown and deficit debacle.
“This pro-government victory lap is unnecessary and nauseating,” tweeted conservative media star S.E. Cupp.
The conservative news site Twitchy aggregated a list of annoyed comments from conservatives, with many of them focusing on the “win an election” phrase, saying it was a taunt.
“We expected President Obama to spike the football during his post-shutdown victory speech this morning, but he still managed to make our jaws hit the floor with” the election remark, wrote Twitchy.
Non-conservatives had a slightly different take on this tone, which was perhaps best summed up by humor columnist Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker.
“Obama Declares National Day of Gloating,” ran the title on Borowitz’s column Thursday.
“It would not be productive for this nation, going forward, to crow about our victory over political adversaries,” wrote Borowitz in his satirical version of the president’s speech. “So let’s get it all out of our systems today.”
Yes, it’s finally over. The US government reopened Thursday morning, and the Treasury prepared for a normal day of paying the nation’s bills after Congress approved a bill to raise the debt ceiling and end the 16-day federal shutdown.
President Obama signed the measure into law shortly after midnight Thursday.
In the short term, the resolution of the fiscal crisis represented a decisive defeat for congressional Republicans. At the urging of tea party-aligned conservative members, the House GOP at first demanded the defunding of Obamacare in return for continued government spending. What it got was a slight tightening of procedures for the verification of income levels for those applying for Obamacare subsidies.
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The legislation also sets up a process for a House-Senate conference on a long-term budget and tax plan for the nation.
“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” said House Speaker John Boehner in an interview with an Ohio radio station.
For the medium term, the effects of the resolution are less clear. That’s because it leaves open the possibility that the whole thing can happen again in a few short months. The legislation ending the standoff funds the government only until Jan. 15. It raises the debt ceiling to a level that the United States will hit around Feb. 7.
“We think that we’ll be back here in January debating the same issues. This is, I fear, a permanent feature of our budgetary process,” John Chambers, managing director of Standard & Poor’s rating service, told CNN.
The longer-term implication of the endgame may be this: It sets up an internal Republican struggle, if not for the soul of the party, for the nature of its approach to Washington governance in an era of divided partisan power.
That’s because tea party conservatives generally say they do not want to accommodate themselves to what their establishment GOP brethren consider the reality of their position. They want to fight, if not to win, then for fighting’s sake.
Matt Kibbe, president of the tea party-leaning group FreedomWorks, explained this Wednesday in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The endgame fiscal deal represented a complete loss, in Mr. Kibbe’s view, but that did not mean conservatives had accomplished nothing.
“What we accomplished was fighting,” he told Mr. Cooper. “It’s important in Washington, D.C., to step up to the plate and actually stand for something.”
The problem for conservatives is that the rest of the party sees the recent unpleasantness as pugilism without a point. The GOP’s approval rating sank to new lows, while the Affordable Care Act’s many rollout problems were overshadowed by news about the government shutdown and looming debt ceiling disaster.
There’s a sense of deep political disappointment in the conservative right that led to their recent actions, writes generally right-leaning columnist Ross Douthat in The New York Times. They’ve seen the federal government grow and grow, even under Republican presidents.
But the defund-Obamacare strategy was doomed from the start: Why would Mr. Obama ever sign away his signature domestic achievement? In the meantime, the fiscal struggle sucked billions of dollars out of the economy, took paychecks away from government workers, and alienated millions of nonconservative voters.
“That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: if it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was,” writes Mr. Douthat.
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Senate leaders on Wednesday were racing to paste together a bipartisan deal to avoid a possible government default and reopen the government after weeks of a draining national fiscal crisis.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell expected to wrap up their negotiations in time to hold votes on the package later in the day. Staff worked all night drawing up legislative language to ensure the bill could be finished Wednesday morning.
“The clock is ticking,” Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota, the Senate’s third-ranking Republican, told The Washington Post. “Given the consequence of what we’re talking about here ... I would hope that we would have genuine interest among all parties in terms of trying to get this done as quickly as possible.”
The deal was expected to mirror one that Senate leaders discussed over the weekend. It would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling enough to provide federal cash through Feb. 7 – thus setting up another possible confrontation in early 2014.
It would also establish a bipartisan commission to hammer out a longer-term budget and tax package, with a deadline of mid-December to finish. In addition, the bill was likely to include tougher language requiring the administration to verify the income of people qualifying for government subsidies under Obamacare.
Senate dealmaking was delayed for a day on Tuesday as House Republicans struggled to unify themselves behind some sort of proposal that they could pass before the Senate acts, perhaps pushing the final legislation to the right. But House Speaker John Boehner was unable to unify his conference behind a bill that would have been only somewhat more conservative than the Senate version. The result was an extraordinary public humiliation for a speaker who has had difficulty controlling the various factions of his caucus.
How complete is Speaker Boehner’s defeat? It’s possible now that he may adopt a legislative switch and pass the Senate’s deal before the Senate itself does so. This maneuver would speed the process of the bill at a time when hours now count.
Whatever he does, Boehner now probably faces a choice: government default or passage of a bill that the other chamber drew up without his involvement. It’s possible he would try a third option: passage of a clean debt ceiling increase, leaving the government shuttered. But given the lateness of the hour, such a move would be the equivalent of a quarterback heaving a pass from deep in his end zone as the last second ticked off the game clock.
“I believe it would be much quicker if the House were to take the existing vehicle, that’s the continuing resolution bill, load it up with the [Senate] agreement just described, and then send it back to the Senate,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R) of Pennsylvania told CNN.
One remaining question was whether Sens. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and Mike Lee (R) of Utah or one of their allies would try to delay the legislation on the Senate floor with a filibuster of sorts. That would be theoretically possible, but given the lateness of the hour and the complete collapse of Republican unity, even some conservative pundits urged against it.
“Would Lee or Cruz bother? The collapse of the House GOP effort last night means that there won’t be an alternative to the Senate bill at all, and certainly not one in time to head off a big public-relations nightmare for the caucus rebels,” writes right-leaning talk host Ed Morrissey Wednesday on Hot Air.
Mr. Morrissey opined that it’s time for Republicans to get out of the way and allow Obamacare’s implementation problems to take center stage.
Conservatives who backed Senator Cruz in his effort to strip funding from Obamacare sounded resigned to their defeat and indicated that they would continue their fight by other means – attempting to unseat the Republicans who they saw as betraying their effort.
“You will see no defunding of Obamacare because Republicans are giving up,” writes the influential Erick Erickson of right-leaning RedState.
Mr. Erickson said he’ll now be putting his money into Heritage Action and other political groups that pushed the defunding strategy.
“So what good is the GOP? It’s time to fight this out in primaries in 2014,” he writes.
Meanwhile, Boehner’s future now seems cloudy. He may have won some credibility with conservatives by pushing the shutdown as far as he has. But his inability to unite his caucus behind him for last-ditch efforts speaks to his larger leadership problems.
“In short: Boehner has the shell of a Speakership right now. With all that came before this latest rebuke from within his own conference, it’s hard to see how he picks up the pieces and moves forward with any sort of momentum or force behind him,” write Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan on The Washington Post political blog "The Fix."
It’s quite possible that the events of the next few days will define House Speaker John Boehner’s political legacy and his place in history.
Does that sound a bit over-dramatic? Maybe, but as of Tuesday it looks as if Mr. Boehner is the key Washington player who will determine whether the US defaults on its debts. Whether he’s willing or able to do so, and what that means for his chaotic GOP conference, are things that could reverberate in the US economy and government for a long time to come and overshadow other notable events of Boehner’s career.
Here’s the state of play: In recent days Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell have been working on a fiscal deal to (temporarily) reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. The basic structure of the deal involves discussions for a longer-term budget and tax play as well as some minor tax changes for Obamacare.
But conservative House Republicans consider this plan to be surrender. So Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership on Tuesday began a quick-step process to see if they can produce their own bill before the Senate presents them with a fait accompli.
That’s caused the Senate leaders to hit the pause button on their own talks, as they wait to see what Boehner can produce. Thus, at the moment, it’s the speaker of the House who has the legislative steering wheel in his hands.
Problem is, he’s having a hard time rounding up votes. Conservatives were cool to Boehner’s opening proposal, which would have reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling on the Senate’s schedule, and added a two-year delay in Obamacare’s medical device tax, plus elimination of federal payments toward the health insurance of members of Congress and the cabinet.
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“There are no decisions about what exactly we will do,” said Boehner at a brief press conference following a Tuesday morning conference of the House GOP.
The House leadership is still aiming for a vote as early as Tuesday evening. They’ve dropped the delay in the medical device tax, according to Robert Costa of the National Review. Conservatives considered that “crony capitalism” which their constituents would not consider a victory.
It’s possible that congressional staff will be added to the list of people losing their federal health care contributions. And a House bill would likely include a provision temporarily barring the Treasury from using “extraordinary measures” to shift around government funds in an attempt to avoid default.
Boehner is “treading carefully,” writes the well-sourced Mr. Costa. “According to his allies, he’s still hoping to bring the House’s plan to the floor tonight, and he thinks it can pass, as long as a few elements of the proposal are tinkered with.”
If Boehner can pass something, it might create additional leverage for Senator McConnell in his talks with Senator Reid. But Reid has already said he’s vehemently opposed to stripping the employer health subsidy from congressional staff. And the White House on Tuesday slammed Boehner’s effort, calling it a “partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans.”
If Boehner fails, it’s Reid who might gain leverage in the Senate.
In any case, the Senate might – in fact, probably will – make changes in any House bill. What will Boehner do then? Would he allow a bill opposed by conservatives to come up for a vote on the House floor?
The fiscal crisis has lasted weeks, but Boehner’s problem hasn’t changed. He has struggled to unify House Republicans unless he proposes legislation that won’t pass the Senate or be signed by President Obama. If he accepts a compromise bill that passes his own chamber with Democratic support, his “speakership would effectively be over,” writes Washington Post political expert Chris Cillizza.
And the clock is ticking. The speaker’s time for maneuvering will soon be over.
For the past few weeks, Democrats from the president on down decried Republican tactics on a potential government shutdown as political hostage-taking on a par with "extortion." So, of course, now that the Republicans are on the run, the Democrats are doing the exact same thing in reverse.
They're saying they want to undo major part of the sequester budget cuts as part of a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit. It's as though Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has finally sensed his moment to destroy that product of tea party Republicanism once and for all. One might not even be surprised if "Ride of the Valkyries" was booming from his Senate office this morning.
That is how dramatically the story in Washington has flipped during the two weeks since the government shutdown.
On Oct. 1, the Republicans were on the offensive – or at least thought they were. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas was at the front of the column, and the cry coming from his ranks was that they would stop at nothing to gut President Obama's signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
A government shutdown? A hit to the credit rating of the United States if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling? Either was preferable to a new government entitlement that they said would erode American liberties and drive the country further into a potentially fatal debt crisis.
Inevitably, they failed, because they had nowhere near the numbers in Congress to win, and – despite their rhetoric – only a minority of Americans wanted to repeal Obamacare. Americans had already decided that question in the 2012 elections, and Republicans' failure to accept that rebuke meant they would receive it again this month. The Democrats, who knew all this, had not the slightest intention of yielding.
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But now, members of the Republican establishment have abandoned their tea party insurgents for a more moderate position: They've offered to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling – both only temporarily – so that Congress can discuss reforming Social Security and Medicare.
Democrats, surely would wish for more. A temporary reprieve still holds a hint of "extortion" and still keeps Washington bumping from one fiscal crisis to the next. But, these days, such is the stuff of which compromises are made.
But Senator Reid is having none of it. He knows that polls show most Americans blaming Republicans for the current gridlock. And he knows that the Republican establishment absolutely, positively does not want the government to default on its debt. The tea party, with its grass-roots outrage, might be willing to stay firm on its debt-limit resolve, but establishment Republicans are much more likely to listen to Wall Street, and a failure to raise the debt limit could mean global financial chaos. Not good for 401(k)s.
So Reid is trying his hand at the "extortion" game. The Republicans can only save themselves if they get out of this mess, and he's the only Democrat in Congress who has the power to let that happen. So far, he's letting them dangle.
He now wants the Republicans to roll back parts of the sequester budget cuts agreed to during the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis. The sequester, however, happens to be the only major legislative success of the Republicans' tea party era. Asking the GOP to go back on the sequester cuts would be like asking the Democrats to go back on, say ... Obamacare.
"There's no question that House Republicans overreached in trying to use this negotiation to repeal a [health care] bill that was very central to the president's agenda,'' said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, according to The Wall Street Journal. "The same thing is happening on the Democratic side among Senate leadership as pushed by the White House. They're trying to now undo a law put in place in 2011, the Budget Control Act.''
Just like the Republicans didn't have the numbers in Congress to defund Obamacare, the Democrats don't have the numbers to eviscerate the sequester. Not if the Republicans hold firm as the Democrats have. And it's hard to imagine the Republican-controlled House surrendering so meekly, even in its current beaten and battered state.
In all likelihood, Reid is merely pressing his advantage to gain as much leverage as he can. An agreement before Oct. 17, the day Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling or risk default, now seems inevitable.
The real lesson here, it seems, is one of political perspective. In D.C., "extortion" is just politics by another name.
Will a short-term extension of the government’s ability to borrow money help the US (and the world) to avoid an economic crisis? That’s the big question in Washington today following House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement that the GOP leadership will offer a temporary debt ceiling increase in exchange for a commitment to a budget conference from President Obama and Senate Democrats.
“This is a good faith effort on our part to move halfway to what [Mr. Obama’s] demanded,” said Mr. Boehner at a press conference following a House Republican caucus meeting.
To be clear, this move would not reopen the government. It’s about the second part of the rolling Washington political crisis, the debt limit. If this limit isn’t raised by Oct. 17, the government will run out of cash to pay debts it has already incurred, such as Treasury bill redemptions and perhaps even Medicare obligations, said Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew at a Thursday Senate hearing.
“There is no way of knowing the irrevocable damage such an approach would have on our economy and financial markets,” said Lew.
The House GOP’s offer is an attempt to avoid this situation, for now. Financial markets appeared to react well to the move, with the Dow Jones Average rising sharply Thursday morning.
But Boehner’s announcement left a number of important questions unanswered. It is possible that this plan could fall apart, as have previous Boehner plans to avoid or deal with the government shutdown.
Are there strings attached? For example, it’s not entirely clear if this is a “clean” debt limit increase, with no extra provisions. Will the GOP’s call for a budget conference be written in the legislation? Or would a simply “yes” on the conference from the White House be sufficient for Boehner to push the bill forward?
Will the White House reject this? The nature of the linkage here is important because Obama has made it clear he won’t accept any increase in the debt limit with conditions. He has said, however, that he’d talk about the budget and other issues after the debt limit and government shutdown problems are resolved. There’s space there for some creative aides to figure out how to sequence events in a manner that might make both sides happy.
But what about the shutdown? That’s a second part of the Obama question. As noted above, the president has said both problems must be solved before he agrees to talks. In Boehner’s debt-ceiling framework, the shutdown continues.
In response to Boehner’s press conference, the White House issued a statement Thursday morning which appeared to reiterate that they won’t move unless Congress raises the debt ceiling and passes a clean funding bill to reopen government.
“Once Republicans in Congress act to remove the threat of default and end this harmful government shutdown, the President will be willing to negotiate on a broader budget agreement,” were the statement’s exact words in this regard.
Will the tea party support this? Boehner did not get an enthusiastic response to this proposal from his caucus at Thursday’s meeting, according to numerous press reports.
“House GOP seems split,” tweeted the National Review’s Robert Costa at one point while the conference was ongoing.
Many tea party conservatives seemed to see this as a cave on Boehner’s part. If enough of them refuse to support their speaker, it’s possible that the GOP leadership will have to depend on Democratic votes to pass the bill – and those Democratic votes may, or may not, be forthcoming.
But some conservative groups outside Congress said they would support a clean debt limit increase. Their reasoning runs like this: the debt-limit breach is a possible scary thing and needs to be separated from the government shutdown, which has already occurred. That way the shutdown can be used as continuing leverage to dry and defund or make major changes to Obamacare.
One of the worst fears of these groups is that the GOP will try and strike a grand bargain on taxes and entitlement spending that does nothing to the Affordable Care Act, the issue over which the government was shut down in the first place.
“I think that we would give the speaker some flexibility on a short term debt limit increase to keep the focus where it should be, which is about Obamacare. But any CR [‘continuing resolution’ or stopgap government funding measure] that does not address Obamacare is something that we would be very strongly against,” said Michael Needham, CEO of the conservative group Heritage Action for America, at a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Thursday.
And then there is perhaps the biggest question of all: If this does manage to pass, what happens in six weeks, when it expires? It is possible a short-term debt hike would just push the current disagreements into the heart of the holiday season.
That’s what some tea party conservatives are beginning to suspect. They’ve noticed rhetoric from House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and his allies has changed a bit in recent days. It’s focusing on the word “conversation” – as in, what the GOP wants is for President Obama to give in and talk to them. The GOP leadership is talking more about the general prospect of tax reform and budget restraint, as opposed to the Affordable Care Act in particular.
Now, a new op-ed from House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin is irritating some on the right due to what they believe is its apostasy. The piece repeats the request for negotiation and talks about the prospect for bipartisan entitlement reform. It does mention the need for a “complete rethinking of government’s approach to health care,” but only as a vague future goal.
“But right now, we need to find common ground. We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today – and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let’s negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code,” writes Representative Ryan.
“Obamacare” does not appear in the piece. It contains no direct reference to the president’s signature health law or the law’s current implementation problems. And that has not gone unnoticed among those for whom Obamacare is the central issue of the current crisis.
“What is amazing about this op-ed is what it fails to mention. Amidst the garrulous piece on Medicare reform, Social Security, and tax policy, there is not one word about the very impetus for this so-called stalemate – Obamacare,” writes Daniel Horowitz at the right-leaning RedState site.
Of course, it’s possible that Ryan is just keeping quiet about Obamacare for the moment, given that polls show the public blames the GOP somewhat more than Democrats for the current situation. On Wednesday, Mr. Boehner reiterated the party's particular criticism of the health care plan, calling it "a rolling calamity" and "a trainwreck."
But tea party conservatives are worried that the leadership is selling them out – they see a developing endgame in which the government shutdown is linked to the debt limit to create a larger crisis, allowing House GOP leaders to switch to their preferred solution of a modest budget package hammered out in negotiations with the White House.
The well-connected Robert Costa of the right-leaning National Review says Wednesday that while tea party-types have wanted the current war to be about defunding Obamacare, the House leadership is more circumspect. Leadership members also want to defund the Affordable Health Care Act in theory but think a trade for entitlement reform makes more sense in the current divided government.
“Ryan oped, House Rs tell me, signals opening of leadership’s final move; but getting to 218 [votes in House] will be tough, may need adjustments/add-on,” tweeted Mr. Costa on Wednesday.
The central question this raises is whether Boehner will be able to convince enough of his most hard-line members to accept this approach. It might be possible – Boehner has won some “modest” credibility with the tea party caucus due to his willingness to accept their defund demand and take it as far as he has, according to Politico’s John Bresnahan and John Harris.
“Interviews with tea party-aligned House members and other hard-line conservatives reveal a modest if unmistakable rise in support for Boehner – a politician they have previously disdained and tried to unsuccessfully to evict from power,” Messrs. Bresnahan and Harris write.
Why won’t President Obama just sit down with Republicans and discuss their fiscal differences? That’s what Speaker of the House John Boehner and the rest of his GOP leadership team asked Tuesday at a morning press conference. Clearly, this was the theme they had agreed to make the central point of their appearance. All avoided answering questions about particular issues or possible procedural moves to return to the question of talking.
“Are we going to sit down and have a conversation, or aren’t we?” said Speaker Boehner.
Throughout the crisis over the government shutdown and impending debt ceiling problem, Mr. Obama’s answer to this question has been “no." Neither he nor Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) have shown any interest in a back-and-forth over Republican demands that he defund or scale back "Obamacare" as the price of funding the government or raising the debt ceiling.
Following Boehner’s press conference, Obama called him to reiterate that there will be no talks in the current environment.
“The President is willing to negotiate with Republicans – after the threat of government shutdown and default have been removed – over policies that Republicans think would strengthen the country,” said a readout of the call, released by the White House.
This refusal to engage has taken Republicans by surprise, apparently. An anonymous member of the House leadership told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York that he thought Democrats would respond with some sort of concession on the Affordable Care Act, such as agreement to repeal its medical device tax.
“Instead, it’s no, we’re not going to negotiate, we’re not going to negotiate, we’re not going to negotiate,” this lawmaker told Mr. York. “Which means effectively you’re going to try to humiliate the Speaker in front of his conference. And how effective a negotiating partner do you think he’ll be then? You’re putting the guy in a position where he’s got nothing to lose, because you’re not giving him anything to win.”
Democrats in general have a two-part answer to the question of why the White House hasn’t engaged with the GOP, as it has in the past.
First, the maximalist nature of the House Republican opening position polarized the situation, in this view. Boehner bowed to the wishes of the tea party wing of his caucus and included a provision defunding Obamacare in a bill to fund the government. Obama will never sign a bill that undermines his signature legislative achievement, yet he’s heard Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and other hard-liners describe that as a nonnegotiable demand of their own.
Second, Democrats say they don’t want to legitimize the weapons of political warfare chosen by the House GOP. Democratic leaders say Republicans have taken hostages – high-priority continuing resolution and debt ceiling bills – in an attempt to push unrelated policy demands.
Democrats might have agreed to strike the medical device tax from Obamacare if that had been the GOP’s opening position, writes left-leaning blogger Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. But it wasn’t (see “maximalist," above).
The liberals’ nightmare is that if they give in this time, the process will repeat itself over and over again.
“There simply won’t be any end to the hostage taking,” writes Mr. Drum. “As their price for not blowing up the country, there will be an unending succession of short-term CRs and short-term debt limit extensions used as leverage for picking apart Obamacare – and everything else Democrats care about – piece by piece.”
Is there a way to thread the needle here? Perhaps, if Republicans will agree to talk about budget and tax issues in discussions that are at least ostensibly decoupled from the shutdown and debt limit.
In the end, the president will have to deal with House Republicans in some way, writes veteran Washington reporter Ron Fournier. Voters want to see it. GOP control of the House gives them power with which Democrats will have to deal in some manner.
Obama’s “position against negotiating with Republicans is politically unsustainable,” writes Mr. Fournier in the National Journal.
Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might have thought she could go on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and have an easy ride. You know, put up with a few jokes about the dysfunctional Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov, make a plea for “young invincibles” to buy health insurance with a government subsidy (free money!), and call it a night.
Indeed, Ms. Sebelius got in her talking points: Many will end up paying less for health coverage than their monthly cellphone or cable bill, she said. And yes, the launch of Healthcare.gov was “a little rockier than we’d like.”
But she also got a grilling from the liberal late-night comedy host over an issue near and dear to Obamacare critics: the fact that the individual mandate to buy insurance goes into effect Jan. 1, while businesses with 50 employees or more got a one-year reprieve from their Obamacare requirements.
Why does this make sense? Mr. Stewart asked over and over, zeroing in on people who resent being forced to buy health insurance.
“If I’m an individual who doesn’t want this, it would be hard for me to look at a big business getting a waiver and not having to do it, and me having to,” Stewart said. “I would feel like you were favoring big business because they lobbied you to delay it.”
Why not allow individuals that same courtesy? Stewart asked.
Ninety-five percent of big businesses already provide health insurance to their employees, Sebelius replied. "A delay doesn't change the market numbers.”
But Stewart kept at it: Isn’t it a legitimate criticism that an individual cannot delay the mandate but a business can?
Sebelius framed her answer in terms of what the law does for individuals, not what it requires: “Nothing that helps an individual get health insurance has been delayed at all,” such as the choice of plans and a possible subsidy, she said.
And individuals who don’t want to buy insurance can pay a fine, she pointed out. In the first year, it’s just $95 or 1 percent of income.
Then Sebelius made her pitch to young invincibles – the young Americans who, in the past, did not buy health insurance – to buy insurance anyway even if their finances are tight. "For a lot of young folks, they're one fall on the basketball court, one auto accident away from a lifetime of hospital bills they can't pay,” she said.
Stewart also asked her the question we’ve all been dying to get an answer to: How many people have actually managed to buy health insurance through the still-glitch-plagued Healthcare.gov?
“Fully enrolled?” Sebelius said. “I can’t tell you.” But her department will be putting out monthly reports, she promised. And so far, there have been “lots of Web hits” and “hundreds of thousands of accounts created.”
At the end of the show, Stewart threw in final burst of exasperation:
“I still don’t understand why individuals have to sign up and businesses don’t, because if the businesses – if she’s saying, ‘Well, they get a delay because that doesn’t matter anyway because they already give health care,’ then you think to yourself, ‘[Expletive] it, then why do they have to sign up at all,’ ” he said. “And then I think to myself, ‘Well, maybe she’s just lying to me. Just to me?’ ”
It was a little tongue in cheek. But Stewart, posing as Everyman, made his point. Obamacare has left a lot of folks confused. Stewart says he would rather have a “single payer” system, in which the government is the public’s primary insurer. So in fact he positioned himself to Sebelius’s left. But if her goal was to add to the public’s understanding of the Affordable Care Act, we’re not sure she succeeded.
The government shutdown is now entering its second week. Is the US political situation that produced it getting better – or worse?
Well, it’s better in the sense that both sides have had a week to look tough. House Speaker John Boehner has shown tea party conservatives that he’ll stick with them past the shutdown cliff, despite pressure to relent from establishment Republicans. President Obama has demonstrated to Democrats that he’ll fight hard to protect a health reform law that reflects the party’s longtime priorities.
It’s Negotiation 101: posture at the outset to establish your position. Then begin a search for solutions from a position of strength.
But that doesn’t seem to be happening in this case. Both sides are continuing to espouse positions the other says it can’t tolerate. Rhetoric is becoming personal and vindictive, and the fight seems to be escalating into a larger showdown that’s about the fighting as much as it is about policies.
So in that sense, things are getting worse. Right now there seems no obvious way out. It’s a classic prisoners’ dilemma, writes veteran Washington hand Stan Collender. While all the parties to the fight may benefit from working together, working together has become so difficult that the worst of all possible outcomes, a longer and more destructive shutdown, may be the result.
“I see the shutdown lasting at least another week ... and two or three more weeks after that are becoming increasingly likely. I’m also raising the likelihood of the debt ceiling not being raised by October 17 – the date Treasury says it will be needed – to 1 in 3 instead of my previous estimate of 1 in 4,” writes Mr. Collender, a senior executive at Qorvis Communications, on Monday on his “Capital Gains and Games” blog.
Here’s how the situation stands: On Sunday, Speaker Boehner reiterated that he won’t bring to the floor a clean government funding bill – one shorn of provisions defunding, delaying, or otherwise modifying "Obamacare." He said he won’t attempt to raise the debt ceiling without Democratic concessions, either.
“The fact is, this fight was going to come one way or another,” Boehner said on ABC News's “This Week."
Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, in Sunday show appearances, replied that House Republicans have created a “ridiculous choice” in which getting rid of the Affordable Care Act is the price of opening the government or avoiding a US debt default.
The GOP needs “to open the government," Secretary Lew said on “Fox News Sunday." "They need to fund our ability to pay our bills. And then we’re open to negotiation.”
The current Washington political situation is akin to the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, in the view of a top House Republican quoted by right-leaning Washington Examiner political writer Byron York in a Sunday column.
At Gettysburg, a Confederate unit out looking for supplies stumbled into Union cavalry. Suddenly, they were caught in a fight they had not intended on terrain they had not picked.
“Everybody just kept feeding troops into it. That’s basically what’s happening now in a political sense. This isn’t exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it’s the fight that’s here,” this member of Congress told Mr. York.
Does Boehner see any path out of this situation?
It’s possible he does, according to another well-connected conservative journalist, Robert Costa of the National Review.
Don’t read too much into the “fight-to-the-death posturing” of the most adamant Republican House members, Mr. Costa wrote in a Washington Post opinion column last week.
Look instead to the smaller clues of Boehner’s behind-the-scenes talks with House members about a grand package deal that would raise the debt ceiling in return for Democratic concessions on tax and entitlement reform.
Those talks are “evidence of how the impasse will probably end: with an eleventh-hour, smaller compromise that Boehner has been slowly but surely shepherding,” Costa wrote.
Of course, for that to be the case, the Obama administration would have to retreat from its current position that there can be no fiscal negotiations until the government is open and the debt ceiling raised.