How Democrats Can Get to Yes

If they want to end the shutdown and avoid default, they must find a way to let Republicans save face.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (L), R-OH, listens as US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Syria during a meeting with members of Congress at the White House in Washington, DC, September 3, 2013. Obama told congressional leaders that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needs to be held accountable for allegedly carrying out the August 21 attack near Damascus, which US officials say killed nearly 1,500 people, including hundreds of children. 
AFP/Getty Images
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Charlie Cook
Oct. 10, 2013, 5 p.m.

Google is a pretty amaz­ing thing. The oth­er day I was think­ing about the gov­ern­ment-shut­down mess and how it might be re­solved, des­pite the ele­ment in the Re­pub­lic­an Party, and spe­cific­ally on Cap­it­ol Hill, that re­mains com­mit­ted to ex­tend­ing the shut­down as a reas­on­able tac­tic in the war on big gov­ern­ment. Most oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, deep down, have real mis­giv­ings about all this, and know it’s not the way to settle dis­putes. Sure, mem­bers of this second group view the Af­ford­able Care Act as hor­rif­ic policy with the po­ten­tial to dam­age the eco­nomy and cost jobs, but they don’t see shut­ter­ing the gov­ern­ment or re­fus­ing to raise the debt ceil­ing as a reas­on­able strategy. These Re­pub­lic­ans are backed in­to a corner, though. If their party’s base per­ceives them as cav­ing in to Pres­id­ent Obama’s de­mands, they are sure to be ac­cused of lack­ing prin­ciple and ca­pit­u­lat­ing to a pres­id­ent whom some see as just short of the dev­il. They would likely face a con­ser­vat­ive chal­lenge in their next elec­tion.

At the same time, too many Demo­crats seem to be en­joy­ing this de­bacle, ap­pear­ing to view the fight as a ter­rif­ic polit­ic­al op­por­tun­ity to in­flict some real dam­age on the Re­pub­lic­an Party. It cer­tainly looks as if Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, a box­er in his early years, thinks he has his foot on the throat of House Speak­er John Boehner and the GOP and is not in­ter­ested in tak­ing it off. Stor­ies that Re­id in­sisted on keep­ing Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden away from key meet­ings re­in­force this view; the ma­jor­ity lead­er ap­par­ently sees Biden as too will­ing to cut a deal and forge a com­prom­ise.

Right or wrong, this is how I was see­ing things, and I began won­der­ing how a skilled ne­go­ti­at­or might deal with such an im­passe. When I was young, whenev­er I would ask a com­plic­ated ques­tion, my mom or dad would al­ways tell me to “look it up in the en­cyc­lo­pe­dia.” So I turned to its mod­ern-day equi­val­ent, Google, typ­ing in “Gov­ern­ment shut­down ex­pert ne­go­ti­ation.” The very first art­icle that popped up was a fant­ast­ic Oct. 3 column by Jena Mc­Gregor, in her Wash­ing­ton­Post.com fea­ture On Lead­er­ship. Mc­Gregor, a former ed­it­or at Bloomberg Busi­nes­s­week, quoted five con­flict-res­ol­u­tion ex­perts, start­ing with Wil­li­am Ury, cofounder of Har­vard Law School’s Pro­gram on Ne­go­ti­ation, who has been in­volved in dis­putes ran­ging from cor­por­ate mer­gers and coal-min­ing strikes to eth­nic wars abroad. Ury, the coau­thor of the book Get­ting to Yes, says, “There is a power struggle go­ing on,” and adds, “The ques­tion is, how is this power struggle go­ing to be re­solved?”

The ex­perts, in Mc­Gregor’s words, made three ma­jor points: “This is likely to get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter. The pres­id­ent might choose not to ne­go­ti­ate on his core prin­ciples, but he’ll still have to find a way to let Re­pub­lic­ans save face. And even if you’re deal­ing with host­age-takers, there’s still room to talk.”

It was the second point that really res­on­ated with me. If your in­tent is to decim­ate your op­pos­i­tion and win at all costs, that’s one thing. But if your in­ten­tion is to re­solve a con­flict that has enorm­ous con­sequences for our na­tion­al eco­nomy and fin­ances, you have to give your op­pos­i­tion a place to land, a way to settle and save face.

Mc­Gregor makes an im­port­ant point: “Right now, however bad the shut­down may be for many people, neither Demo­crat­ic [nor] Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers yet feel im­me­di­ate pain from the fal­lout. Demo­crats know the polls show that Re­pub­lic­ans are get­ting hit worse by the gov­ern­ment’s clos­ure. And Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t yet get­ting heat from con­stitu­ents for their hard-line po­s­i­tions. But at some point, a show­down — or worse, the po­ten­tial of a dis­astrous de­fault — could be­come so pain­ful that it drives people to the ne­go­ti­ation table.” 

The dis­clos­ures earli­er this week that fam­il­ies of mil­it­ary per­son­nel killed in Afgh­anistan might not be get­ting the im­me­di­ate death be­ne­fits owed to them, in­clud­ing money for fu­ner­al ex­penses, could help spark the ne­ces­sary cit­izen out­rage.

One of the things that helped pre­cip­it­ate the show­down is that many Demo­crats re­fuse to ac­know­ledge that the enorm­ous and hugely com­plic­ated health care law ac­tu­ally might have prob­lems that need to be le­gis­lat­ively ad­dressed. One Demo­crat­ic House mem­ber told me a couple of months ago that Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi had made it very clear to her mem­bers that she did not want to hear any talk of crack­ing open the Af­ford­able Care Act to ad­dress some of its short­com­ings. Polls have con­sist­ently shown that while some Amer­ic­ans stead­fastly want Obama­care re­pealed and oth­ers want to keep it ex­actly the way it is, a plur­al­ity want to see it — choose a word — re­paired, fixed, or mod­i­fied. Yet few on Cap­it­ol Hill, on either side, seem will­ing to ut­ter those words.

Mc­Gregor turned to Robert Mnook­in, the dir­ect­or of the Har­vard Ne­go­ti­ation Re­search Pro­ject and au­thor of Bar­gain­ing With the Dev­il: When to Ne­go­ti­ate and When to Fight. Mnook­in goes straight to this point: “The ob­vi­ous deal, if I were to make a pre­dic­tion, is for there to be a clean budget and a clean ex­ten­sion done sim­ul­tan­eously with an agree­ment that there’s go­ing to be some bi­par­tis­an ap­proach to im­prov­ing the health care law.” But he then asks, “How can Obama cred­ibly com­mit to be­ing flex­ible to con­sid­er­ing changes? It’s clear he’s not go­ing to make changes that are go­ing to gut it.”

Some­how, though, Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats have to give Re­pub­lic­ans, at least the ones who want to re­solve this — and I would put Boehner in that cat­egory, re­gard­less of what he has said in re­cent days — a place to land, some way to get to yes.

What We're Following See More »
WWE WRESTLING OWNER
Trump to Nominate Linda McMahon to Head SBA
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
MODELED ON 9/11 COMMISSION
House Dems Introduce Legislation to Investigate Russian Hacking of Elections
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.), a Democrat on the House intelligence committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the House government oversight committee, announced they were introducing legislation to create a bipartisan commission to investigate any attempt by the Russian government or persons in Russia to interfere with the recent US election. The commission they propose is modeled on the widely-praised 9/11 Commission."

Source:
$6.3 BILLION FOR RESEARCH AND OPIOIDS
Senate Sends Medical Cures Bill to Obama’s Desk
10 hours ago
THE LATEST
DON’T WANT TO VOTE HILLARY
Colorado Electors Sue State for Right to Vote Third Party
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Two Colorado presidential electors Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a state law that requires them to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote," in this case Hillary Clinton. They say they want to "vote for a third-party candidate to keep Trump from receiving 270 electoral votes," and work with other faithless electors around the country to "shift their Democratic votes to a consensus pick."

Source:
HAD CONSIDERED RUNNING FOR GUV IN 2018
Oklahoma AG Pruitt to Get the Nod for EPA Chief
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login