Friday, October 04, 2013

Calm Down, GOP: You Have A Friend In High Places

Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis CK, Jon Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Jim Carrey (especially Jim Carrey) had nothing on Winston Churchill, if legend bears any resemblance to reality. One of the Prime Minister's most famous witticisms reputedly came about thusly:

Churchill: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?" 
Socialite: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course... "
Churchill: "Would you sleep with me for five pounds?"
Socialite: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!" 
Churchill: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”

This is somewhat analogous to the budgetary machinations going on in Washington these days. (Or maybe I simply wanted an excuse to repeat the story.)

A few hours before the federal government closed, President Obama during an interview with NPR was

asked if that opportunity to avoid a shutdown exists, what was he willing to offer.

"Steve when you say what can I offer? I shouldn't have to offer anything," Obama said. "They're not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That's part of their basic function of government; that's not doing me a favor. That's doing what the American people sent them here to do, carrying out their responsibilities.

"I have said consistently that I'm always happy to talk to Republicans and Democrats about how we shape a budget that is investing in things like early childhood education, rebuilding our roads and bridges and putting people back to work, growing our economy, making sure that we have the research and development to stay at the cutting edge and that deals with some of our long-term debt issues. But we're not going to accomplish those things if one party to this conversation says that the only way that they come to the table is if they get 100 percent of what they want and if they don't, they threaten to burn down the house."

Both the media and most of us Americans tend to digest the music, rather than the lyrics, of any comment made by the President of the United States.  This is no less true for Barack Obama, who is here noting that Congress must pay for the programs it authorizes and that the GOP thus bears the responsibility to do the right thing and approve a resolution keeping government functioning.

But he is, contrary to assumptions of both the Democratic faithful, and of Repubs who allege that the President won't negotiate, saying no more than that.

We're not going to accomplish those things if one party to this conversation says that the only way that they come to the table is if they get 100 percent of what they want and if they don't, they threaten to burn down the house.  Literally, Obama did not say the GOP is out of luck, merely that they won't get everything.

Republicans won't get a fundamental restructuring of the Affordable Care Act, nor a one-year delay in its implementation.  Without health-care reform, the President understands, he has little legacy. He has brought us out of the recession, but other Presidents have steered the nation out of recession, and the economy remains weak.  He issued the order to capture Osama bin Laden, but historians may record the terrorist's demise as a triumph more of Seal Team 6 or of the military generally.  And he has terminated American involvement in one war and nearly another, but ending two wars the nation lost does not get an ex-President within a thousand miles of Mount Rushmore.

The Affordable Care Act is President Obama's signature achievement and even if delaying it were beneficial (which it is not) to the nation, such a move would diminish its value to the reputation of the 44th President.

But other actions undermining the social safety net, though arguably even more damaging to the American people, probably would not have as deleterious an impact on Obama's standing with historians. Some might even meet with hardy approval of most members of the mainstream media, most of whom are burdened with jobs whose lack of physical rigor will enable them to work well into their 70s.  At the Business Roundtable on September 18, President Obama remarked

So here’s where we are -- and I think this is the bottom line, and I want to make sure everybody is clear here.  I have presented a budget that deals with -- continues to deal with our deficit effectively.  I am prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to deal with our long-term entitlement issues.  And I am prepared to look at priorities that the Republicans think we should be promoting and priorities that they think we should be  -- we shouldn’t be promoting.  So I’m happy to negotiate with them around the budget, just as I’ve done in the past.

What I will not do is to create a habit, a pattern, whereby the full faith and credit of the United States ends up being a bargaining chip to set policy.  It’s irresponsible.  The last time we did this in 2011, we had negative growth at a time when the recovery was just trying to take off.  And it would fundamentally change how American government functions.

The understated President noted using the full faith and credit of the USA as "a bargaining chip to set policy" is "irresponsible." (Appalling, reprehensible, and unpatriotic he might also have mentioned.)  Nonetheless, he didn't definitively state that he would not negotiate over this, merely that he will not help "create a habit, a pattern."

That may be nitpicking.  Not so, though, that the president is still obsessed with the deficit. In an economy stuck in second degree, he explains that he has "presented a budget that deals with- continues to deal with our deficit effectively."  And he assures the Big Money Boyz he is "prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to deal with our long-term entitlement issues."  While Frank Luntz has taught Repubs to speak of cuts in Medicare and Social Security as "entitlement reform," Obama uses the less pithy "deal with our long-term entitlement issues."

Digby recognizes "He's right about not creating a habit or a pattern of bargaining with the debt ceiling. This is simply unsustainable. But once he says he'll deal, and they agree to take what he's offering, it's just a matter of timing the announcement isn't it? "   Churchill might have said "We've already established who will pay for the sins of a political system controlled by the forces of wealth.  Now we are haggling about the price."

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