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October 12, 2013 7:55 AM They Waddled Into the Threshing Blades

By Martin Longman

Freshman Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was among dozens of Republican senators who attended a meeting yesterday with the president at the White House. Apparently, he decided to “confront” the president about his health care law.

“I told the president exactly the same thing I have told you here today: That we need to work together and fund the government and at the same time provide substantial relief to the millions of people who are hurting because of Obamacare, who are losing their jobs, being forced into part-time work and losing their health insurance,” Cruz said. “If the outcome doesn’t impact people who are struggling, who are hurting because of Obamacare, then I don’t think it would be a good outcome.”

Asked whether the White House would give their version of the conversation, press secretary Jay Carney said, “No.” And Sen. Cruz admitted that he had not been convincing.

“I’m glad that we are finally having discussions. That is an improvement. There was an awful lot of talk but then, at the end of the day, the president still said he wouldn’t negotiate,” Cruz said. “We began talking, that was good today. But he continued to maintain that he will not negotiate or compromise on anything. And if that is the position, that’s not going to lead to a resolution.”

Except, it is going to lead to a resolution because the Republicans gave up on holding a gun to ObamaCare’s head almost as soon as the government shutdown began. Contrary to Ezra Klein’s analysis that the government shutdown saved the world from the consequences of a government default, I do not believe there was ever any chance that the Republican leadership would intentionally allow a default, and only a remote chance that they would let one happen, however briefly, through bungling ineptitude. I believe that default was always the hostage that wasn’t really a hostage. As John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak put it in the movie The Big Lebowski, “without a hostage there is no ransom. Those are the [expletive] rules.”

Anyone who has been listening carefully, knows that John Boehner won’t allow a default and never even contemplated allowing a default. If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to what Boehner’s good friend, former Rep. Steve LaTourette, told Rachel Maddow on October 4th.

“We’re not going to default. I’m going to tell you, John Boehner is a friend of mine. We’re both from Ohio. I served with him for 18 years. He’s not going to let that happen.”

Another senator who had a beef with the president at their meeting yesterday was Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Graham says at one point he told Obama that he can’t expect Congress to surrender its constitutional authority on spending matters.
“I understand where you’re coming from, protecting the presidency,” Graham says, characterizing his remarks to Obama, “but you can’t tell the Congress, ‘You will reopen the government, you will pass a continuing resolution and you will pass the debt ceiling, and then I will talk to you.’”
“As a body, we can’t give that authority away. We can’t be told by the executive branch of the government that ‘you have to do what I say when it comes to how you fund the government and raising the debt ceiling.’ That’s not healthy for future Congresses. The whole check and balance situation will be undermined there,” Graham adds.

The problem for Sen. Graham is that the president actually can and has told Congress to pass a continuing resolution to reopen the government and pass the hike in the debt ceiling. Telling the president that he can’t do something that he manifestly has already done is not a strong negotiating tactic.

David Drucker, at the Washington Examiner, tried to explain the confused thinking of House kidnappers.

The issue isn’t whether House Republicans should accept a bad deal to raise the federal borrowing limit and ensure the U.S. does not default on its $16.7 trillion debt. Republicans are concerned that the refusal of President Obama and Senate Democrats to negotiate those issues with Republicans would establish a precedent making it impossible to haggle over future debt limit increases or to use them as leverage in other policy negotiations.
That has only reaffirmed to House Republican leaders — who wanted to avoid a government shutdown — that they have no choice but to stand their ground on the debt ceiling. Surrounded by a hostile White House and Senate, and with few legislative avenues beyond borrowing and spending bills to impose their agenda, Republicans said capitulating to Obama would cede to Democrats the only institutional authority Republicans possess.

The problem for the Republicans here is that the establishment of a precedent making it impossible to haggle over future debt limit increases and the elimination of the only institutional authority that the Republicans possess is the entire point of this confrontation from the Democrats’ point of view. The only quibble I have with Mr. Drucker is that defaulting on our debts is not an “institutional authority.” Otherwise, this battle has always been about taking the Republicans’ hostage-taking strategy away from them. It’s been about killing the precedent that the Republicans can win by acting like kidnappers.

Everyone who hasn’t put this simple idea foremost in their mind has probably misunderstood everything Harry Reid and President Obama have done and said.

As I put it in my recent piece Why Face-Saving Won’t Work:

What the Democrats are trying to do is not to end the shutdown for its own sake, but to break the cycle of crises governance, where they are constantly being asked to make absurd concessions merely to keep the government operating. They want to take away the Republicans’ ability to hold a gun to our country’s credit rating and take away their will to shut down the government. And, since this is the priority, helping the Republicans save face by giving them some reward, no matter how paltry, is entirely counterproductive.
To put it in parent/child terms, if you have a boy who throws a lot of tantrums, your problem isn’t the particular tantrum he is throwing right now, but the fact that he throws tantrums whenever he doesn’t get what he wants. When you bargain with the child, you ensure that he will continue the behavior in the future because it is effective.

If Congress is ever going to return to regular order and start actually governing rather than letting the sequester govern for them, and if President Obama has any hope of having a productive second term, the cycle must be broken. Yes, this will weaken the Republicans’ ability to obstruct. That’s just too bad.

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