There is no doubt about it: Americans are ready for the White House and Republican leaders to hammer out a deal to end a preposterous, nine-day-old government shutdown and save the country from the potential financial ruin of a first-ever default on U.S. debt.
For all the bitter recriminations and political posturing, polls indicate that even a divided electorate wonders why a solution should be so hard at this point.
For the umpteenth time this week, President Obama declared on Wednesday that he refuses to negotiate with congressional Republican leaders over spending, the debt ceiling or Obamacare under duress. Instead, the president said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his caucus should reopen the government and extend the Treasury’s borrowing authority beyond next week without asking for any concessions.
House Republicans, meanwhile, continued to pass rifle-shot measures to reopen portions of the government – but not others. Obama met with House Democrats Wednesday afternoon, but the closed-door conversation at the White House appeared to do little to break the public impasse. Senate Democrats, House Republicans and Senate Republicans will be asked to attend similar sessions in the coming days.
If Obama and Boehner are sincerely open to negotiations – but under the right circumstances – then there are obvious solutions at hand. Here are three possible approaches:
Pass a Stopgap Measure That’s Tied to Budget Talks. Republicans are demanding concessions before they approve a continuing resolution to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. But Obama says he won’t begin talks with a “gun to my head.”
One way to slice through this Gordian Knot is to pass a four-to-six-week stopgap measure – but tie it to holding budget negotiations. The National Review reported on Wednesday that GOP congressional leaders plan to bring a six-week debt ceiling extension to the floor to avoid default.
The president on Tuesday said Republicans could even specify which issues they want to discuss in the continuing resolution to end the shutdown. That was his answer to Boehner’s request that all he wanted was a “conversation.”
“They can attach some process to that [giving] them some certainty that in fact the things they're concerned about will be topics of negotiation, if my word's not good enough,” Obama said on Tuesday. “But I've told them I'm happy to talk about it. But if they want to specify all the items that they think need to be a topic of conversation, [I’m] happy to do it.”
This could be achieved through a “deeming” legislative process in which – under a special rule – the passage of the CR triggers the creation of the bargaining panel. In that way, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) can legitimately say they didn’t sign off to a deal under duress, while Republicans can say they didn’t “surrender” to the Democrats.
Obama’s Tuesday statement contains the seeds of a potential deal – with a senior House Republican telling CNN that a four to six-week debt ceiling increase was an option.
But there is a catch. Obama emphasized he “will not eliminate any topic of conversation,” but a House GOP proposal to form a new bipartisan super committee would exclude tax increases from the negotiations. The White House plans to veto the House measure.