Obama Snookers GOP into Government Shutdown

Obama Snookers GOP into Government Shutdown

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Don’t kid yourself--President Obama has been gunning for a government shut-down.   

His polls are sinking, his second-term agenda is dead in the water, and he’s defending the NSA snooping, Benghazi and IRS scandals. Larry Summers -- his pick to replace Fed Chair Ben Bernanke -- was drummed out of town. He’s been shown up by Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad; he looks, suddenly, like a loser. Most important, his beloved signature healthcare bill looks as workable as one-bladed scissors. What better time to distract the public by engaging in a dog-fight?

Don’t forget that five administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Budget Director Sylvia Burwell and economic advisor Gene Sperling, played significant roles in the Clinton-Gingrich showdown. They watched the floundering President Clinton walk away the winner, and the GOP take a major hit in the polls. They know a winning strategy when they see one.


Think about it. Just as the government shuts down, the insurance exchanges ramp up. The roll-out of the program has already attracted unflattering reviews. Insurance costs have shot up for many Americans; the much-touted savings are only to be found in states with already crazy-high premiums, like New York. Even the government has been reduced to bragging that the insurance rates are “lower than expected.” That’s like a kid bragging that his “D” in biology could have been worse.

What better way to downplay the “glitches” sure to pop up as millions click onto the government websites than to have all the media focused on the Congress Carnival? Slamming the Ted Cruz crew is surely more entertaining than reporting on inoperable links or crooks making off with Obamacare dollars. The Twittersphere was flooded yesterday – day one -- with tales of website problems in numerous states. But the spotlight stayed mercilessly on Congress. Who is surprised?

Despite much evidence to the contrary, Obama is positive that he can persuade Americans that his is the high road, and that it is the GOP alone that is recklessly endangering the economy. He is highly confident of his oratorical skills. But, if his powers of persuasion were really so compelling, would 52 percent of the country think Obamacare is a “disaster waiting to happen”? http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/01/cnn-poll-will-obamacare-help-you/  He has, after all, spent three years and millions of words defending its virtues.  Over that time, enthusiasm about the law has actually dropped.

Don’t misunderstand. Republicans will bear the brunt of the country’s annoyance. In part that’s because the media will pile on, but it’s also because Republicans haven’t accomplished anything. Score one for the president.

For months, Obama has been warning darkly about Republicans threatening to shut down the government – way before there was any such plan afoot. He wants this encounter. “I will not negotiate” he says triumphantly, before going to play golf on Saturday. (I’m not kidding.)  Someone should tell him it’s actually his job to negotiate with Congress. That is, after all, what presidents do.

That’s what President Clinton did when the GOP shut down the government the last time – he talked to House leader Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole on a daily basis. That’s the tough part. Flying around the country making speeches to children is the fun part.


For their part, the Republicans have wasted a lot of time and goodwill, with little to show for it. They have succeeded in energizing Democrats. The Democratic National Committee reported its best fundraising day since the 2012 election just before the showdown.

Most of us think the government should have an orderly budget process, just as households and businesses do. Most of us think that roughing up the economy over impossible legislative demands is stupid. These are serious times, and they call for serious governing. In recent months the GOP was gaining ground on nearly every front, and now they’ve squandered their advantage. The public was giving Republicans high marks on the economy, on foreign policy – even on healthcare. Opposition to Obamacare was on the rise even by unions, which could have been an important boost in the 2014 elections. Now, who knows?

Even Ted Cruz’ tactics seem absurd. In very short order we will have another fight--this time over raising the debt ceiling. I cannot imagine why the Tea Party crowd did not pin their demands to that more significant negotiation. Americans are still worried about our country’s borrowings and dislike the endless ratcheting up of our debt limit. A new NBC/WSJ poll reports that Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling by a margin of 44 percent to 22 percent. 

Even President Obama has opposed raising the limit in the past. In 2006 he took to the floor of the Senate and delivered a passionate rebuke to those calling to hike the ceiling, proclaiming, “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.”

Americans don’t like deficits, but for the moment our budget gap is closing, not widening. The Democrats’ insistence that we authorize the government to pay for spending already approved by Congress is compelling. Tying that obligation to defunding Obamacare was a non-starter.

The debt ceiling stands at $16.7 trillion. According to a new Bloomberg poll, Americans overwhelmingly (more than 2 to 1) favor attaching spending restraints to any new increase in the debt ceiling, counter to Obama’s pleas for a “clean” bill to raise the limit. This represents a real opportunity for the GOP to campaign for something positive – like reforming Medicare or taxes. Something the country can get behind. Something that could actually show that Republicans are serious. Meanwhile, the GOP has bailed out the president, once again.