Opinion: Republicans need negotiating strategy

October 12, 2013


— For all the hyped indignation over GOP “anarchism,” there has been remarkable media reticence about the president’s intransigence. He has refused to negotiate anything unless the Republicans fully fund the government and raise the debt ceiling — unconditionally.

For all his protestations about protecting the full faith and credit of the United States — jittery markets are showing that his brinkmanship could have precisely the opposite effect — the president’s real intent is to score a humiliating victory over the GOP.

So far, so good. Republicans have fallen to 28 percent approval, the lowest level ever for either party in 21 years of polling and a staggering 10-point drop in the last month. Democrats have also declined, but only four points and, in the end, partisan politics is a zero-sum game. If you lose less than the other guy, you win — because every seat in Congress will be allocated to one party or the other, no matter how disgusted the country is with both.

To be sure, the administration has, as always, overplayed a good hand, with punitive shutdowns — such as of the World War II Memorial — clearly intended to be blamed on the GOP.

People aren’t that stupid. They know a gratuitous abuse of government (lockout) power when they see it. Moreover, Republicans have been passing partial funding bills for such things as national monuments and cancer research, forcing Harry Reid’s Democratic Senate to kill them with a stone cold heart.

Even worse for Democrats, their current partisan advantage is a wasting asset. The rule is simple: shutdown good, debt ceiling bad. Every day the debt ceiling approaches, President Obama’s leverage diminishes.

Obama insists he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling as a matter of principle. It’s never been used as leverage for extraneous (i.e., non-budgetary) demands, he claims.

Nonsense. It’s been so used dozens of times going back at least to 1973 when Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale tried to force campaign finance reform on President Nixon. Obama himself voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator in 2006.

So much for principle. Moreover, should Obama miscalculate the brinkmanship, he’ll become the first president to ever allow a default. Precisely opposite to the principle he pretends to be espousing — and ruinous to what’s left of his presidency. Breaching the debt ceiling would indeed, as he claims, be an economic disaster, aborting an already historically anemic recovery. As president, he would take the blame. He can’t allow it.

It’s a bluff. He will blink.

That’s why, as the debt ceiling approaches, the initiative will increasingly swing to House Speaker John Boehner. The real question is: What will Boehner do with it?

His answer thus far has been peculiar: He simply wants the president to sit down and negotiate.

Negotiate what? “There’s nothing on the table,” said Boehner on Tuesday. “There’s nothing off the table.”

Stranger still. You cannot negotiate if you don’t know what you want. The Republicans need to present a simple, broadly popular set of demands to attach to the debt ceiling. The president will deal. In his Tuesday press conference, he’d already abandoned his original ultimatum of give me a long-term extension or I don’t budge. Now it’s: Give me an extension of any length and I’ll come to the table.

On Thursday, Boehner took that exit ramp, offering Obama a six-week debt-ceiling extension during which negotiations would be conducted. Unless Obama reverses himself and refuses, his “no negotiations” posture evaporates.

What, then, to ask for? Paul Ryan, as usual, points the way with a suggestion that would turn the partial and imperfect success of the last debt-ceiling fight — the automatic spending cuts (“sequester”) that seriously reduced discretionary spending — into the larger success of curbing entitlements, which is where the real money is.

After all, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs (plus interest payments) already claim more than half the federal budget. And they are poised to explode, eating up (estimates the Congressional Budget Office) 97 percent of revenues within 25 years.

Raising (and indexing) the retirement age while changing the inflation measure for entitlements would alone be major achievements. Democrats could be offered relief on the sequester — which everyone agrees needs restructuring anyway, since it cuts agency budgets indiscriminately, often illogically, by formula.

It’s win-win. A serious attack on the deficit — good. Refiguring sequestration to restore some defense spending and some logic to discretionary spending — also good. Forcing the president off Mount Olympus — priceless.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Paul R Getto 4 years, 5 months ago

Stranger still. You cannot negotiate if you don’t know what you want.

They want to turn the clocks back back to 1930 or so. The entire New Deal is at risk. That is why the President needs to hang tough. Everyone needs to give up a bit and taxes need to go up. A haircut for everyone. No decapitations are necessary.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Shutting down government over Obamacare = GOP threatening to Default on the nations debt which is remarkable and insane.

This would be the third major global financial crisis created by this GOP. The first was set off by the Reagan/Bush home loan fiasco. The second by selling bad bundles of home loans to banks world wide under the watchful eye of Bush/Cheney. Henry Paulson was turning a blind eye while Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was denying the housing bubble’s existence—not fraud exactly, but deception that kept the bubble going.

This will screw over the very smart and very rich people, the central banks of Japan, China, and many other countries that hold a large share of their assets in U.S. government bonds. The government of the United States has never defaulted on any bond obligation. The GOP appear to be ready to break this tradition.

This GOP obviously feels the United States doesn’t have to meet its obligation to the working people or its obligations to ultra-wealthy bondholders. The suggestion that the U.S. government might not be willing to repay its debt obligations is remarkable and will completely disrupt global financial markets.

Republican Party shutting down the government is stupid and reckless beyond belief. That shuts down trillions of tax dollars coming to our communities nationwide which could very well cause a ton more unemployment. Have these people no brains?

George Lippencott 4 years, 5 months ago

There will be sufficient monthly tax income to allow us to pay our debts and the interest on them. What we will have to give up is paying fully all the entitlements. This latter is what has driven Mr. Obama to the negotiating table(s).

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 5 months ago

This is not the fault of the entire Republican party, although they are getting painted with the same brush. It's the actions of a rogue thirty House representatives, our own Kansas delegation among them, who, because the House is the ONLY branch of the government that controls the purse strings, think that they can use the threat of financial ruin as a means of blackmail to get their way. This is tyranny by a minority; pure and simple.
It's also a wake up call to a lot of people who honestly didn't know these things about just how Congress works and how the government is funded.
These people woke up a nation. They hurt us and stand to hurt us even more. The backlash against the party is going to be horrendous. The crying shame is going to be the fact that a lot of babies are going to be thrown out with the bathwater. Or, to use another analogy, when a computer locks up and you do a reset, you always lose some good files with the bad.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 5 months ago

In actual fact, the ACA has been majority supported all along in poll after poll. It's gained even more popularity since it's roll out. Obama's re-election was a mandate for it. Romney campaigned SPECIFICALLY on getting rid of the ACA and he was rejected.
I suggest you put down the tea cup and back away slowly.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 5 months ago

I think the poll that was an eye opener for me was the number of people that supported the ACA VS. the number that supported "Obamacare".

George Lippencott 4 years, 5 months ago

Interesting. We are spending close to a trillion dollars a year in money we do not have. We take in a trillion and change. So we are spending almost twice as much as we take in. That started in 2009

So far the only sizable cuts have been to defense although increases in social programs are the main contributors to that annual deficit.

The Republicans argue for some gradual cuts in that deficit. The Democrats (Harry Reid) argue that we should double the taxes on the portion of the middle class that pays taxes despite Mr. Obama's pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.

Naturally there is some reluctance on the part of those designated to pay that bill.

Sound to me as if the argument in DC is substantive and deserving of more thought than one sees here.

Nice to know that I can now look up those people who have been rude to me in the past.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 5 months ago

May I ask where you got those numbers? Because according to Forbes magazine (not exactly known for being "left wing") and the CBO, Obama has been the smallest government spender since Eisenhower. In actual fact, he's reduced the deficit by about a third of what it was when he took office.
I know that's hard for you to choke down, but believe it. The government's own numbers say so.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 5 months ago

I suggest you go (when it's back up after the shutdown goes away) to the website of the Congressional Budget Office. It's obviously going to be an eye opener.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 5 months ago

"Obama is the biggest spender in the history of the world."

Hahahahaha, when all you do is speak in hyperbole it's impossible to take anything you say seriously.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 5 months ago

Actually that's an opinion piece by an individual in a conservative think tank (also denies global warming), not an article by Forbes. I highly doubt someone who worked on Policy Development with Reagan would be able to have an unbiased opinion, let alone have many facts to support his claims.

George Lippencott 4 years, 5 months ago

Actually my numbers come from the IRS and Commerce web pages where I can look up the annual deficit. You can go there too. Like so many things it depends on what you are counting. It is likely correct that on the controllable side of the budget that Mr. Obama is as you note with specific focus on defense expenditures that are well down. But that is only about a third of the actual annual expenditures. Most of our entitlements are in the other two thirds. Do you disagree with anything I actually posted?? I blamed no one - just stated numbers. Who created the crisis is essentially irrelevant. This year the annual deficit is about 750 billion (only because there have been a number of refunds from banks and Fanny and Freddy that reduced the actual numbers. Next year it is estimated by the CBO to again top one trillion. After that it continues to grow at an escalating rate).

Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 5 months ago

Wow, once again civilized thoughtful discourse on the LJWorld forums. Truly impressive.

Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 5 months ago

I actually don't care too much which way the commentators are swinging, I am very pleasantly surprised at how markedly the tone has changed.

Many of the comments are actually worth reading. They are of higher quality and represent more thoughtful insight.

Politeness and decency in a forum?! What a wonderful thing to see.

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