Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said Democrats are struggling to find a way to let Republicans save face and end the government shutdown, and he suggested that a solution could be a concession on the medical-device tax, which the Republicans want to repeal.
McDermott, the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee Health Subcommittee, told National Journal in an interview Wednesday that he is concerned that Republicans are content to continue the shutdown until the debt ceiling hits its limit in mid-October and drives up the economic stakes.
"I call it going on Cruz control," McDermott said, referring to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is seen as fomenting shutdown furor. "He's got us going in a way that we are going to go spinning down to the debt limit, and at that point I don't know what happens," McDermott said.
"My feeling is that we may go into all of that for a couple of days until the bond markets start—and then some folks who are in the moneyed class in this country say, 'What in the hell is going on? Stop this.' "
McDermott, a former psychiatrist, said that in conversations in the House gym he has tried to understand the way his conservative colleagues see the endgame.
"They think that somehow it is going to work out in two weeks when they get to the debt limit, then they'll finally have enough pressure, that they can get the president to cave," he said.
Democrats are quick to pooh-pooh this strategy but the prospect is clearly disconcerting.
McDermott said that in politics, when your opponent has a losing position, the trick is to find a way to let him save face—which is something confounding Democrats now.
"The old rule in the Chicago playground was, when you've got your foot on somebody's neck, don't press, because you might be on the ground sometime and you don't want him to press on you."
McDermott said the game is the same on Capitol Hill. "What we are struggling with now is finding a face-saving way of letting these guys get out of an impossible situation," he said laughing. "How do I let you lose so you don't look like a fool?"
McDermott suggested a concession on the medical-device tax used to offset some of the cost of the Affordable Care Act could be one option to pursue.
"Does the tax on devices get rid of that? Is that the face-saver?" he posited. "It could. It blows a $40-billion hole in the funding of the Affordable Care Act, so I mean you could look at that a lot of different ways. You could say, 'Well, all right, that was the Senate's idea. House members, Democrats, never thought it was a good idea in the first place.' But there are a lot of different ways to talk about that, so maybe that is the face-saver."