Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A 3-step ladder to escape the Shutdown hole

The Shutdown is underway, but it doesn't need to stay that way.

1) Obama and Boehner must meet
The notion that Obama and Boehner cannot stand each other is a myth.
For the most part, during their 2011 debt negotiations, the President and the Speaker were able to develop a good working rapport. Bob Woodward talks about their once budding friendship extensively in his book ‘The Price of Politics’. Alternatively, one photo provides an effective summation. Although those discussions ended in failure, their very essence proved that compromise is possible. But there’s another point here. If Obama can speak with Rouhani, he can certainly meet with the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A ten minute phone call is not the same as a face to face. Indeed, when challenged on this point yesterday, the WH Press Secretary, Jay Carney, was unable to defend the President's unwillingness to meet with the Republican leader. He was unable to do so for a simple reason – the President’s job is to find a path through the political wilderness. Even when the wilderness is not of his own making. In the same vein, Obama is the chief executive of the United States - Boehner has a responsibility to work with him. It won't be easy, but ultimately dialogue is the first step to consensus. Even if the discussions don’t immediately bring about a prosperous outcome, the imagery of constructive discussion would strengthen moderates in Congress and help foster greater trust. Aside from the intransigents, everyone would benefit. It would also help stench the hemorrhaging reputation of American political life.

2) A touch of humility
House Republicans must recognize Obama's political position. The President faces a base which is angry and ready for a fight. A base that believes he’s yielded too easily in previous showdowns with Congress. More than this, not only do liberals believe that the GOP is behaving outrageously; they also believe that any necessary spending cuts have already been implemented. At the same time, Obama must recognize that Republicans face a distinct political reality of their own. At a basic level, conservatives expect further spending cuts from the House and they feel empowered by the polling data (nevertheless, they shouldn't take this data as an endorsement for a shutdown - see the latest polling in the video below). True, in some sense, these diverging understandings suggest an unyielding standoff, yet, they also hint at a solution. Were the President to address certain elements of the non-Obamacare elements of the GOP plan (those focused on spending/keystone etc), he could induce elements of the GOP caucus into a compromise position. At the same time, Obama would ensure the survival of ObamaCare and he'd be able to take credit for guiding the country out the shutdown. Reciprocally, Republicans in Congress would be able to broadcast their own deal inducing message to the conservative base - the President wanted a clean resolution but we were able to extract concessions. If both sides can sell a deal, there is a deal.

3) Leadership
At a foundational level, this shutdown is the result of both Obama and Boehner's unwillingness to face down the rejectionist elements of their respective bases. In essence, instead of pursuing real leadership, the two men have played to narrow perceptions of leadership. Following on from my arguments in (1) and (2), were Obama and Boehner to take a stand in the center ground- resisting internal discord in their own parties, the American people would respond positively. It would make sense for Obama in the aftermath of his post-Syria credibility deficit and it also would make sense for Boehner - offering the Speaker a pre-2014 midterm expression of good faith negotiation.

Ultimately, the President and the Speaker must decide between two choices. Political posturing at the cost of continued shutdown suffering, or common sense engagement that serves the common interest.

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