Why won't Obama talk with Speaker Boehner? (+video)(Read article summary)
President Obama says he will negotiate 'only after the threat of a government shutdown and default have been removed.' The opening move by GOP hard-liners to defund Obamacare polarized negotiations.
Why wonâ€™t President Obama just sit down with Republicans and discuss their fiscal differences? Thatâ€™s what Speaker of the House John Boehner and the rest of his GOP leadership team asked Tuesday at a morning press conference. Clearly, this was the theme they had agreed to make the central point of their appearance. All avoided answering questions about particular issues or possible procedural moves to return to the question of talking.
â€śAre we going to sit down and have a conversation, or arenâ€™t we?â€ť said Speaker Boehner.
Throughout the crisis over the government shutdown and impending debt ceiling problem, Mr. Obamaâ€™s answer to this question has been â€śno." Neither he nor Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) have shown any interest in a back-and-forth over Republican demands that he defund or scale back "Obamacare" as the price of funding the government or raising the debt ceiling.
Following Boehnerâ€™s press conference, Obama called him to reiterate that there will be no talks in the current environment.
â€śThe President is willing to negotiate with Republicans â€“ after the threat of government shutdown and default have been removed â€“ over policies that Republicans think would strengthen the country,â€ť said a readout of the call, released by the White House.
This refusal to engage has taken Republicans by surprise, apparently.Â An anonymous member of the House leadership told the Washington Examinerâ€™s Byron York that he thought Democrats would respond with some sort of concession on the Affordable Care Act, such as agreement to repeal its medical device tax.
â€śInstead, itâ€™s no, weâ€™re not going to negotiate, weâ€™re not going to negotiate, weâ€™re not going to negotiate,â€ť this lawmaker told Mr. York. â€śWhich means effectively youâ€™re going to try to humiliate the Speaker in front of his conference. And how effective a negotiating partner do you think heâ€™ll be then? Youâ€™re putting the guy in a position where heâ€™s got nothing to lose, because youâ€™re not giving him anything to win.â€ť
Democrats in general have a two-part answer to the question of why the White House hasnâ€™t engaged with the GOP, as it has in the past.
First, the maximalist nature of the House Republican opening position polarized the situation, in this view. Boehner bowed to the wishes of the tea party wing of his caucus and included a provision defunding Obamacare in a bill to fund the government. Obama will never sign a bill that undermines his signature legislative achievement, yet heâ€™s heard Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and other hard-liners describe that as a nonnegotiable demand of their own.
Second, Democrats say they donâ€™t want to legitimize the weapons of political warfare chosen by the House GOP. Democratic leaders say Republicans have taken hostages â€“ high-priority continuing resolution and debt ceiling bills â€“ in an attempt to push unrelated policy demands.Â
Democrats might have agreed to strike the medical device tax from Obamacare if that had been the GOPâ€™s opening position, writes left-leaning blogger Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. But it wasnâ€™t (see â€śmaximalist," above).
The liberalsâ€™ nightmare is that if they give in this time, the process will repeat itself over and over again.
â€śThere simply wonâ€™t be any end to the hostage taking,â€ť writes Mr. Drum. â€śAs their price for not blowing up the country, there will be an unending succession of short-term CRs and short-term debt limit extensions used as leverage for picking apart Obamacare â€“ and everything else Democrats care about â€“ piece by piece.â€ť
Is there a way to thread the needle here? Perhaps, if Republicans will agree to talk about budget and tax issues in discussions that are at least ostensibly decoupled from the shutdown and debt limit.
In the end, the president will have to deal with House Republicans in some way, writes veteran Washington reporter Ron Fournier. Voters want to see it. GOP control of the House gives them power with which Democrats will have to deal in some manner.
Obamaâ€™s â€śposition against negotiating with Republicans is politically unsustainable,â€ť writes Mr. Fournier in the National Journal.