Bill Clinton: ‘If I Were President, I Wouldn’t Negotiate’ Over Funding Government

In an appearance on <em>This Week</em>, the former president defended Obama against a possible shutdown.

Former US President Bill Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on September 24, 2013 in New York.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Sept. 29, 2013, 7:04 a.m.

Former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton stead­fastly de­fen­ded Pres­id­ent Obama and Sen­ate Demo­crats Sunday morn­ing on their po­s­i­tion in the debt-ceil­ing fight and cri­ti­cized House Re­pub­lic­ans for not be­ing in­ter­ested in real budget ne­go­ti­ations.

“This is the House Re­pub­lic­ans and tea party say­ing, ‘We don’t want to ne­go­ti­ate with Demo­crats,’ ” Clin­ton told This Week‘s George Stephan­o­poulos.”They’re mad be­cause they don’t want to ne­go­ti­ate.”

Clin­ton de­fen­ded Obama’s po­s­i­tion while call­ing the House Re­pub­lic­an po­s­i­tion “al­most spite­ful.”

“If I were the pres­id­ent, I wouldn’t ne­go­ti­ate over these dra­coni­an cuts that are gonna take food off the table of low-in­come work­ing people, while they leave all the ag­ri­cul­tur­al sub­sidies in for high-in­come farm­ers and everything else,” Clin­ton said. “I think it’s chilling. It seems al­most spite­ful.”

Clin­ton is no stranger to gov­ern­ment shut­downs. Dur­ing his mid-‘90s skir­mishes with then-House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, Clin­ton ve­toed a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion sent to his desk by the GOP-led Con­gress that would have raised Medi­care premi­ums and lessened en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions. The Novem­ber 1995 shut­down las­ted five days be­fore Clin­ton brokered an agree­ment with Gin­grich that fun­ded the gov­ern­ment at 75 per­cent while budget ne­go­ti­ations con­tin­ued for sev­er­al weeks.

Less than a month later, though, the gov­ern­ment closed its doors for an­oth­er 21 days, as Gin­grich and oth­er Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers in­sisted that the White House pass a sev­en-year plan that bal­anced the budget off of Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice pro­jec­tions rather than slightly more op­tim­ist­ic pro­jec­tions out­lined by the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget. Re­pub­lic­ans even­tu­ally passed le­gis­la­tion to re­open the gov­ern­ment, while Clin­ton re­len­ted and sub­mit­ted a bal­anced budget plan based on CBO num­bers.

Clin­ton’s ap­prov­al rat­ings were sub­ject to some volat­il­ity dur­ing and after the shut­downs. His num­bers fell about 10 per­cent dur­ing the second shut­down, but it ticked up to 53 per­cent in a Gal­lup Poll shortly after the dust settled.

Clin­ton was also quick to say the shut­down ne­go­ti­ations he presided over were very dif­fer­ent than the cur­rent fights fa­cing Obama.

“The ne­go­ti­ations we had were ex­tremely minor,” Clin­ton said. “The eco­nomy was grow­ing and the de­fi­cit was go­ing down. They didn’t ask for the store.”

Clin­ton dis­missed any no­tion that Obama’s sig­na­ture health care bill was in any way a real­ist­ic bar­gain­ing chip for the budget fights.

“You can’t ne­go­ti­ate over that,” Clin­ton said. “And I think he’s right not to.”

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