Political Animal


July 25, 2011 10:00 AM Refusing to take ‘yes’ for an answer

By Steve Benen

On Friday afternoon, after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) abandoned debt-reduction talks with the White House, President Obama held a press conference and raised a compelling point:

“I think that one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is, can they say yes to anything? Can they say yes to anything?”

The answer may very well be, “No, they can’t.”

I’m trying to remember all of the various offers Republicans have turned down over the last several months. They started from the sensible position that the debt ceiling must be raised, and then proceeded to turn down every viable alternative.

* Democrats asked Republicans to pass a clean bill, just as GOP leaders had supported many times in the past. Republicans said, “No.”

* Democrats invited Republicans to Biden-led bipartisan talks. Republicans quit.

* Democrats offered a $2.4 trillion debt-reduction package, 83% of which would come from spending cuts. Republicans said, “No.”

* Democrats sought a Grand Bargain, with more than $4 trillion in savings. Republicans said, “No.”

* Several Democrats offered some preliminary support for the “Gang of Six” blueprint. Republicans said, “No.”

* Many more Democrats signaled support for the McConnell/Reid “Plan B.” Republicans said, “No.”

Is it me, or is there a pattern to all of this?

Late yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced his support for a yet another approach that would meet all of the GOP demands: it would (1) include about $2.7 trillion in debt reduction; (2) bring in nothing in the way of new revenue; and (3) require only one debt-ceiling increase this Congress, just as GOP leaders requested.

By all indications, Republicans will reject Reid’s latest offer, too.

Which brings us back to the president’s question: “Can they say yes to anything?”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • c u n d gulag on July 25, 2011 10:06 AM:

    You'll never get that big job this way!

    You have to point out that both sides are at fault.

    So, the problem is not that the Republicans can't say "Yes" to anything - it's that Democrats have continuously and repeatedly refused to accept their "No's!"
    How dare they!

    Now, sent that in, get the big-time paying gig on TV, and leave me a generous tip.

    You're welcome!!!

  • walt on July 25, 2011 10:07 AM:

    One more week and the Democrats will offer to dismantle Medicare and ACA, and cut SS benefits in half. Exactly why are we supposed to be proud that Democrats are falling over themselves trying to meet the demands of these domestic terrorists? Yeah, the public might wake up and realize how insane Republicans are but the Republicans will end up with 98% of what they wanted. Worse, they will have proven that extortion at gunpoint works. Not a great legacy to leave this nation but bipartisanship only works when Democrats cave to Republicans, never the other way around.

  • danimal on July 25, 2011 10:08 AM:

    If the GOP wants default, hoping to derail the economy and blame Obama for the results, the answer to the question is, "No, they can not take Yes for an answer."

  • Rochester on July 25, 2011 10:10 AM:

    I really want to feel that both political parties have the best interest of our country at heart. I want to feel that way, but just can't anymore.

    The word "treasonous" no longer seems crazy. It is actually is starting to apply.

    The Constitutional "option" (such as it is) may be our best chance to save the economy, even though it hands the GOP an impeachable offense. So be it.

  • citizen_pain on July 25, 2011 10:10 AM:

    This could all end today if Obama were to invoke the 14th amendment.

    Can someone give me one single solitary reason why he hasn't yet? Why he shouldn't?

  • cmm on July 25, 2011 10:13 AM:

    I hope Obama goes all Bill Clinton on them and invokes the 14th Amendment. Sigh....

  • cmdicely on July 25, 2011 10:14 AM:

    Which brings us back to the president�s question: �Can they say yes to anything?�

    They can, but they won't because they don't want to. The problem people have in looking at this is that they accept that Republicans really do want to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default, they just want to use it as leverage to get some other concessions first. The negotiations over concessions are a sham, what they want to do is hold firm on the debt ceiling.

    With a default, the U.S. governments credit will be trashed, it will be practically very difficult -- even if the debt ceiling is later raised -- for the U.S. to borrow money, and the Republicans will continue to do everything possible to make it politically difficult to raise taxes, and so the federal government will be forced to cut spending on social programs (and everything else) massively, reducing security for Americans and increasing the relative power of the ultra-rich corporate overlords who fund the Republican Party.

    They know they can't build popular support for a platform of openly throwing everyone to the mercy of unregulated private markets for even the most basic needs, so they see their best chance of achieving that goal as making it practically impossible for the government to do anything else.

  • cmdicely on July 25, 2011 10:20 AM:

    This could all end today if Obama were to invoke the 14th amendment.

    Can someone give me one single solitary reason why he hasn't yet?

    The first is he could legitimately believe that the interpretation offered by some of the 14th Amendment is incorrect, and that the action proposed would be unconstitutional, violate his oath of office, and essentially constitutes a form of autocoup.

    The second is that he believes that he at least arguably holds the power to suggested, but that it is, if it exists, a power that should be used only at the utmost need, so that as long as it is possible that a legislative agreement will be in place to raise the ceiling (even if it seems unlikely) the power should neither be invoked nor even seriously publicly referenced. Instead, if it is to be invoked, it should be done only when there is literally no other option besides default (e.g., when the moment comes at which a default would occur if the power were not invoked.)

  • Slader on July 25, 2011 10:24 AM:

    I am amazed that this group composed mostly of fundamentalist Christians would have so little regard for the oath of office they swore on the Bible. In it, they swore to uphold the Constitution, but they appear to place higher value on a campaign pledge they made to an anti-tax lobbyist, Grover Norquist.
    If the President does end up invoking the 14th amendment and ordering Geithner to keep paying, it seems to me that the House would be on shakier legal ground for abdicating a Constitutional mandate than the President would be for temporarily jumping into the void they created to save the country.

  • Gummo on July 25, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Why should they? Obama has always caved before. He's already offering them everything they want; why shouldn't they hold out for more?

    Republican bullying of Obama has proven to be successful beyond their wildest dreams. He came into office with overpowering majorities and a true mandate. He immediately squandered it all on "bipartisanship." He's the ultimate mark, the perfect patsy.

    The Republicans themselves couldn't have picked a better Democratic president to follow Bush's utter disaster -- hmm, maybe they DID pick him.... [adjusts tinfoil hat]

  • R. Porrofatto on July 25, 2011 10:31 AM:

    One of the problems we face -- here's the headline on the Times online front page:
    "With Impasse in Budget Talks, Worry Over Investors"

    These aren't budget talks. There is no budget resolution or tax cut deal being hammered out as there was back in December. These are hostage negotiations. The only issue is what it will take for Republicans not to cause immense damage to the country. What used to be a strictly pro forma action by formerly sensible legislators is now a loaded gun aimed at our heads. Call it ransom demands. Call it extortion. Call it a shakedown. But they aren't budget talks in the least.

  • OG on July 25, 2011 10:34 AM:

    The problem with the 14th Amendment fix can be summed up in this 3 word question: "And, then what?"

  • citizen_pain on July 25, 2011 10:34 AM:

    cmdicely: To be hesitant based on interpretation or nuance at this point is foolish.

    Is it worth having a treasonous cult destroy the economy simply because one is unsure about the validity of their argument?

    This is cowardly and ridiculous.

  • Johnny Canuck on July 25, 2011 10:34 AM:

    Can someone give me one single solitary reason why he hasn't yet? Why he shouldn't?
    Dear Citizen Pain: Because the relevant section of the 14th amendment prohibits questioning the debt (ie saying it doesn't exist or doesn't have to be paid). No one is saying the money isn't owing, just that there is no money to pay it on time. Moreover, the next section authorizes Congress, not the executive to take action to implement it.

    Now of course the courts can pretend that black is white (see Bush v Gore), but I think Obama has trouble doing this. He's actually not a 21st century Republican.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 25, 2011 10:35 AM:

    There's no way out of this other than the 14th. And we're doomed if hostage-taking is found constitutional.

  • Matt on July 25, 2011 10:36 AM:

    When, if ever, will democrats learn to negotiate in this way? When will they ever say "no" to Republicans, even if they don't have the WH and Senate? Democrats need to learn the art of not compromising, otherwise they will get rolled time and again and our country will suffer from being led by a bunch of economically illiterate extremists.

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 25, 2011 10:38 AM:

    Do you want to bring the US and World Economy to its knees with only the rich surviving?

    They just haven't been asking the right questions.

  • MBunge on July 25, 2011 10:38 AM:

    "Why should they? Obama has always caved before."

    I suppose this is going to be Obama's legacy. No matter what he achieves, and he's accomplished more for the liberal agenda in 2 1/2 years than Bill Clinton did in 8, he'll only be remembered for his failure to satisfy the desperate need some liberals have to win dick measuring contests.


  • stinger on July 25, 2011 10:40 AM:

    As you said earlier, Steve, the politics of spite. President Obama's situation reminds me of that of Jackie Robinson, and of Jack Trice (of my alma mater).

  • Sam Simple on July 25, 2011 10:40 AM:

    The one question they may to answer "Yes" to, is "Would you like a cigarette before your execution"?

  • kevo on July 25, 2011 10:41 AM:

    The Republicans have descended into the bunker! -Kevo

  • MBunge on July 25, 2011 10:41 AM:

    "When, if ever, will democrats learn to negotiate in this way?"

    Yes, because being stupid and irrational ALWAYS leads to success.


  • KK on July 25, 2011 10:41 AM:

    Google Jack Balkin for an explanation on why it isn't so easy. The short is, all other avenues must be exhausted.

  • John M-S on July 25, 2011 10:41 AM:

    This article is a crock. The Dem's haven't proposed a budget in 786 days. All they know how to do is spend with no end in sight. The Republicans passed a budget in the House (Ryan Budget) The Dem's in the Senate never voted on it - up or down. I hope the Tea Party candidates stand up for why they were elected - Hold the line.

  • Varecia on July 25, 2011 10:48 AM:

    John M-S on July 25, 2011 10:41 AM:

    "This article is a crock. The Dem's haven't proposed a budget in 786 days. All they know how to do is spend with no end in sight..."

    So, in other words you were in a coma during the 8 years Bush was in office.

  • CMM912 on July 25, 2011 10:51 AM:

    Yo Steve,

    HOW the heck did you get your job?!?!? This is nothing but a HIT PIECE on the Republicans.

    Journalism 101: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY?

    YOU answered NONE of those questions - WHY?!?!?

    Answer: Because this is nothing but an obama boot-licker writing a POLITICAL HIT PIECE; NO INTEGRITY WHATSOEVER!!

    WHY don't you list the REASONS the Republicans said no??

    And, WHY don't you write about how the Republicans have PRODUCED, ON PAPER, 3 PLANS, and obama PRODUCED, ON PAPER, 0 PLANS??? Oh yeah, and WHY don't you write that the DEMOCRATS VOTED NO ON THOSE 3 PLANS???


  • divF on July 25, 2011 10:52 AM:

    John M-S: The President submitted his FY 2012 back in February. That is less than 786 days. Get your facts straight, or crawl away from this board.

  • divF on July 25, 2011 10:54 AM:

    Correction: FY 2012 *budget* was submitted by the President back in February.

  • James Parente on July 25, 2011 10:55 AM:

    MBunge@ 10:38am. Very well put. You help shine a light on the chronic complainers of the left, the non-pragmatistists who are as critical and uncomfortable with a black president as are their brothers in christ on the right.

  • Brutalfacts on July 25, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Sometimes I just shake my head....

    How do you win if the other side is crazy? To read the stuff here Obama is weak, or caves, or whatever. Its like they think he could somehow overcome flat out ignorant, deranged, stupid people placed in a position of power.

    The Speaker would LOVE to put this behind him, you think he is caving? No, he CAN'T because he is being held hostage as well.

    Spare me the blame Obama stuff, he was dealt a very bad hand, has been attacked from the start, and has done some pretty amazing things. Its his achievements that fuel the GOP to destroy him. And he looks around and sees his "friends" (though the professional left has never been a Democratic President's friend, more like an anchor) bailing out and pointing fingers.

    A purge (which will happen) of the crazy takes time, and some stress and pain. Its not supposed to easy, there is no script. We are at war, and no war has ever been won by throwing up ones hands declaring defeat because it was "hard" and your leader didn't get the magical quick results you want. This is why we progressives lose, again and again. And you know what the definition of insanity is. Their insanity is strong willed, ours is weak.

    This will turn. Why, it has too. Too many people have too much money riding on the status quo. Big Corp needs the consumer to have enough money, big media needs to sell their product to sponsors, Big GOP needs funding.

    Its gonna be one hell of a week.

  • boatboy_srq on July 25, 2011 11:15 AM:

    I'm with Rochester and cmdicely (first post). They sum up the problem nicely.

    And the "party of no" view of the GOP has been voiced since November 2008 if not earlier, so seeing their current actions should be no surprise.

    "Morurial classi." Captcha wins again.

  • Sonya on July 25, 2011 11:26 AM:

    I think that it is unfortunate that what truly seems to be happening is that Boehner is acting as though he is the president. Or at least that he is in charge and running things and, along with the rest of the GOP, is gleefully ignoring the fact that there is indeed a president. The GOP seems to be acting like they are going to enact the laws regardless of what the president or the American people are calling for as long as the people who are paying off the GOP are kept happy.

  • brutalfacts on July 25, 2011 11:29 AM:

    One more thing. There may not be a path to 218. Giving them what they want to begin with is a smart move; I think they will reject it, if they take it thats fine. We need to move past this for the good of the nation.

    You keep your powder dry to fight again. You work to not have the economy tank. Youre the President of the Country, not of your base. Get past this and make your stand in the looming budget showdown. Shutting down the Government is not ideal, but its effects will be short term. Default has very long term implications.

  • JW on July 25, 2011 11:31 AM:

    They have said yes to having insured that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will be the focal point of the 2012 campaign.

  • Lisa on July 25, 2011 11:36 AM:

    I just want our elected officials to grow up and act like the leaders they were elected to be. This is the United States of America, they represent us and should act like this country and it's people are of the greatest importance. I DO NOT feel this is the case. They need to get over their petty quibbles and get on with the job of running our country efficiently and within a BUDGET. By the way, elected officials, get off the backs of the middle class. Even out the taxation structure.

  • Dianne93101 on July 25, 2011 11:37 AM:

    The President using the 14th Amendment would put him closer to crossing the Rubicon.

    What the Republicans have said no to are piddly options that put a 1000 mile leash on reckless spending.

  • denverjim on July 25, 2011 12:00 PM:


    Your first sentence, obviously; tried to control the direction of the reader.....and it failed....ha!!

  • PQuincy on July 25, 2011 12:15 PM:

    I'm bemused by the latest right-wing talking point, which appears in several forms in the comments here: "But Obama has never produced a budget!"

    Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that this claim is utterly untrue. The White House unveiled a budget early this year which Congressional Republicans, as is their wont, declared "dead on arrival".

    But, they say, "Republicans have provided one, two, three [whatever] plans, but the Democrats won't accept."

    By this logic, all the President needs to do is introduce a plan for no deficits, no tax increases, huge increases in domestic discretionary spending and enrichment of all entitlements, all based on phantom economic growth and rosy tax-collection scenarios...and not forgetting to ask for a pony. Then, we are to assume, the Republicans could happen and negotiations could begin?

    The sheer asininity of saying "but the Democrats don't have a plan" or (with only slightly more veracity, "The Democrats have not passed a budget" (owing, naturally, to Republican filibusters), as if that explained the current situation, is breathtaking.

  • H.H. McCool on July 25, 2011 12:20 PM:

    Obama has tried to give away the farm, but the latest polls show that while 73% of the respondents think the Republicans have not co-operated enough, 69% think the president has not!!??!! In other words, a strong majority thinks that neither side has been cooperating. The Reps can't say yes, and the Demos can't give enough of their principles and core values away to impress these folks. Obama's attempts at "bipartisanship" have been for nought.

    P.S. Isn't it ironic that the only thing stopping Obama from trashing core Demo policies like social security, medicare and medicaid is the recalcitrant Tea Party?

  • John M-S on July 25, 2011 3:13 PM:

    Senate Democrats unveil debt limit plan with $2.7 trillion in spending cuts - Reuters

    Need a flashlight for that cave?

    2012 - the end of an error.

  • smintheus on July 25, 2011 3:14 PM:

    Michael Froomkin the other day:

    Shorter Obama Press Conference

    I tried repeatedly to surrender to the House GOP, but they wouldnt take even my most abject surrender. I have summoned them back to the White House tomorrow morning in another attempt to force them to accept it. If worst comes to worst, and they will not accept my surrender, I am prepared to accept theirs, but I really dont like it, and will use the opportunity to campaign against Democratic values in the next election.


  • Doug on July 26, 2011 12:03 AM:

    I don't know who is more nauseating - the trolls with their mindless repetition of lies or the faux "political experts" with their inability to recognize political facts. Both lack any contact with reality; whether past, present OR future.

  • TheSafeguard on August 01, 2011 9:47 PM:

    Can anyone tell me how much of these Bills or this Amendment contains foreign spending? Meaning, has anyone addressed the problem of Foregin Spending in the budget?

    Not one word has been said to shut the President and the Congress down on Foregin Spending. There are no controls over Foregin Policy and Spending.

    No one has confimed the debt owed, to who it is owed, what the terms and interest rate is. They keep saying we owe China... But for what, why, and where did that money go? They aren't saying what countries owe us money, how much, who, why, what, when, and the interest they owe us?

    Why isn't anyone asking these questions?
    Why are we just focused on the budget which was already funded for this year over 5+ years ago?
    Why is everyone focusing on what our debt is but not looking at all the money the rest of the world owes us?
    Why are we the American people still giving free rides to the world, carrying their debt, taking a beating by the banks, insurance, and government companies and no one is saying a word.

    Everyone just keeps looking to blame each other when the solutions are right in front of us!

    Pay attention to what they are not saying or what they don't want to tell us. I don't want opinions. I want the FACTS and I want ALL OF THEM!

    There is not enough information to make an educated decision and too much gray noise to hear what is going on. It is almost like the American People need a translater, lawyer, CPA and a historian to figure out and wade through all of this crap to get an answer of substance.

    Don't all of these guys have a college education? Dont they know how to add and subtract? They have 1 job and that is the budget. If the 3 (congress, house, pres) of them can't get all on the same page then we need to vote them all out!

  • SMH... on August 01, 2011 10:14 PM:

    Safeguard, lest me see if I can get through answering your questions without either laughing or crying...

    The debt China holds is in the form of treasury notes (t bills) and the money was used to pay for two wars and an unfunded drug benefit because Bush lowered taxes in wartime instead of raising them like a sane President would have.

    As for why "no one is asking these questions," well, they're stupid questions asked by an utter moron.

    Acquaint yourself with a search engine and educate yourself and don't come back here again until you can do so without embarrassing yourself.

    and edicaui -- my thoughts exactly, Mr.Captcha. My thoughts exactly.