The House Republican line on the debt ceiling is quite clear: they won’t meet their obligations unless Democrats meet their demands. The White House line on the debt ceiling is unequivocal: President Obama will not negotiate with those who are threatening to hurt the nation on purpose.
The GOP’s new goal is to convince the public and the media that Obama’s tack is unreasonable.
House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office released the above video this week, arguing that the president is willing to negotiate with Russia but is not willing to negotiate with congressional Republicans.
As painfully ridiculous as the argument is, there’s some preliminary evidence that some media figures find it compelling. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, for example, chided Obama repeatedly last weekend for his reluctance to negotiate with far-right lawmakers on whether or not the nation defaults on its debts.
In case there’s any lingering confusion, let’s make the facts plain. Obama has said he’s open to compromises on the budget; he’s open to compromises on taxes and spending; he’s open to compromises on the sequestration cuts; he’s even open to compromises on immigration, the farm bill, and just about everything else. But when Republicans threaten to trash the economy and the full faith and credit of the United States – deliberately and for no reason – then the president will engage in this kind of political hostage standoff.
Boehner somehow has convinced himself that there’s nothing unreasonable about threatening to push the nation into default on purpose, but it’s outrageous for Obama to rule out negotiations.
The strategy clearly intends to exploit public confusion. If many Americans believe policymakers aren’t open to compromise, then maybe they’ll hear about the president rejecting negotiations and assume Obama’s the bad guy – as opposed to, say, the folks who are holding the nation hostage.
But here’s the kicker: if the president changed his mind immediately, and announced he’d start making concessions if Republicans ruled out hurting Americans on purpose, Boehner said yesterday he wouldn’t join Obama at the negotiating table.
If you think I’m kidding, I’m really not.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants President Obama to negotiate on the debt ceiling – just not with him.
The same day he castigated Obama for being more willing to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin than Congress, Boehner said he had no intention of returning to the one-on-one grand bargain talks he pursued with Obama in 2011.
“I’m not doing that,” Boehner told reporters. “The House is going to pass a bill. We expect the Senate to pass a bill. I would guess the president would engage with the majority leader over there if he so desires,” the Speaker added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Got that? In other words, over the course of a single day, the weak and easily confused House Speaker effectively told Americans, “I’m outraged Obama won’t negotiate with me,” which was then immediately followed by, “I refuse to negotiate with the president.”
And then best of all, let’s say Boehner changed his mind and agreed to negotiate with Obama. And let’s also say the president, terrified of what radicalized Republicans might do to the country, also agreed to make concessions. Even then, it wouldn’t really matter – Obama knows that Boehner doesn’t really control the House of Representatives anymore, so even if the two struck a grand bargain, there’s no reason to think the Speaker could deliver the necessary votes.
Why anyone would take Boehner seriously at this point is a bit of a mystery to me.
Update: Jed Lewison had a great piece questioning the premise of Boehner’s silly argument: “Whether you agree or disagree with the president, he’s not negotiating with Putin and Russia over whether or not Syria should have or be able to use chemical weapons. He’s negotiating on how to wrest them from Putin’s control. And the reason that negotiation is taking place is because he’s committed himself to taking military action against Syria if a deal can’t be worked out.”
If Boehner wants to squeeze his caucus into that analogy, he’s welcome to do so, but it won’t be flattering for the GOP.