President Obama has a simple mission in the budget battle: Appear much more sane and rational than Tea Party Republicans.
And he’s doing a pretty good job of that, which may help explain why there are no negotiating sessions between the president and congressional Republicans set for this weekend with only three days to go before the next government crisis. Without a deal, economists warn that a government shutdown could tank the markets and send the country spiraling back into another recession.
Rather than conducting high-level meetings as he did during the last debt ceiling crisis in 2011, and in the run-up to a last-minute compromise on the fiscal cliff last December, Obama is spending a lot of time portraying his ideological rivals as hostage takers willing to hold the country ransom, shut down the government and threaten a default on U.S. debt in a futile bid to destroy the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
During remarks at the White House Friday afternoon, he praised the Senate for acting “responsibly” by voting 54 to 44 earlier today to keep the government open through Nov. 15 while preserving funding for Obamacare. The fate of the bill remains uncertain in the House, where the GOP’s firebrand Tea Party conservatives have blocked a strategy by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) for navigating a series of deadlines to keep the government funded and avoid the nation’s first default.
“So we’re not going to do this under the threat of blowing up the entire economy,” Obama said this afternoon. “I’ll not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills that already have been racked up.”
“I don’t know how I can be clearer about this,” he added. “Nobody gets to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States just to extract political concessions. No one gets to hurt our economy and millions of innocent people just because there are a couple of laws you do not like.”
For a man apparently unwilling to negotiate, he chose words suggesting that he is open minded, and would be willing to sit down with Republicans and discuss their legion of grievances with his signature health care law and other administration policies. “There will be differences between Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “We can have all kinds of conversations about how to resolve those differences. There will be areas where we can work together; there will be areas where we disagree.”
Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been skillful in the past several days in portraying Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and other GOP nemeses as reckless “anarchists” and political terrorists willing to take the economy down in a desperate bid to derail Obamacare.
Cruz and Lee, reveling in the adulation of their Tea Party supporters and far right political base for mounting filibuster-style opposition to the Senate bill, happily brushed off criticism from the Democrats and even some more moderate Republicans. Although they lost badly in today’s showdown in the Senate, they persist in arguing in “Alice in Wonderland” sort of logic that Obama will eventually roll over if Republicans simply hang tough in opposing the Senate-passed bill.
“The government is going to be funded,” Lee said this afternoon. “The question is whether we fund it with Obamacare or without. The House-passed continuing resolution found a way to keep the government funded while protecting the people from the harmful effects of Obamacare. The Senate has chosen to strip out that language from this measure … and I think that was an unfortunate process. Again, this is not about calling for a shutdown. We are calling for funding the government but defunding Obamacare.”
But there is no way such a bill would ever get past the president’s desk. So what’s the point? House Republicans are equally confident that Obama will bend to their will to go along with their preposterously long wish list of policies - ranging from approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to gutting the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - in return for raising the debt ceiling.
Obama said he was stunned by this political naiveté.
“Imagine if you had a Republican president and a Democratic speaker, and the Democratic speaker said, Well, we’re not going to pass a debt ceiling unless we raise corporate taxes by 40 percent; or unless we pass background checks on guns; or whatever other list of agenda items Democrats were interested in,” Obama said. “Does anybody actually think that we would be hearing from Republicans that that was acceptable behavior?
“That's not how our constitutional system is designed. We are not going to do it. The American people have worked too hard to recover from a bunch of crises - several of them now over the last couple of years inflicted by some of the same folks in Congress that we're talking about now - to see extremists in Congress cause another crisis."