If you’re wondering who just blinked first in the tense back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans over the government shutdown and debt-ceiling deadline, the answer is: It’s a photo finish.
In fact, both Speaker John Boehner and President Obama are blinking — that is, giving up ground — at nearly the same time. Picking up on hints from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday that the president was open to a short-term debt-ceiling increase, Boehner and the House Republican leadership obliged him. On Thursday morning, they came out of a meeting to announce they’d support “clean” legislation of the sort Obama wanted to raise the debt limit — but only for the next six weeks. Then, during that period, Boehner and his team said, the president needs to sit down and talk about concrete spending cuts and other issues.
In his remarks, the House speaker clearly intended to convey that he was meeting Obama “halfway,” and that the GOP was holding out on an agreement to open the government until Boehner heard something more from the president in talks scheduled for this afternoon. “That’s a conversation we’re going to have with the president today,” Boehner said.
So who’s making the greater concession? We’ll likely find out over the next day or so. But it’s obvious there is marginal movement toward the middle, in a foot-dragging way, from what had been two hard-line positions. Boehner, taking his cue from the tea-party sub-caucus in the House, had initially insisted on presidential concessions related to the start-up of Obamacare this month. He appears to be letting that slide, to the consternation of the tea party. Suddenly all the talk is about spending in general — entitlements and tax reform — not Obamacare, which Boehner and his team have come to accept that the president cannot budge on, given that it is his signature domestic achievement. In separate op-eds Wednesday, both House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan both called for debt-ceiling negotiations without mentioning health care at all.
And yet Obama, even while insisting that he will refuse to negotiate anything but a clean continuing resolution while the government is shut down, and that he will not talk about concessions either in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, appears to be already doing that, to a degree. He will almost certainly have to do more of it. Even with a six-week extension — which Obama is expected to sign — the GOP is still holding the government “hostage,” in the Democrats’ favorite description. Adding to the pressure is a provision that the Treasury Department not use “extraordinary measures” to pay down the debt during the extension period; if the president accepts that as well, the approach will look even more extortionate.
Lew, in his testimony, gave a nifty performance in saying yes and no at the same time, denying that the president would ever negotiate under threat while at the same allowing that “if everything is on the table “¦ there could be a serious conversation.”
That, folks, is probably what we’re about to see begin.
What We're Following See More »
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.