Obama's no-negotiation stance setting new tone

By Jim Kuhnhenn

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 9:58 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — This time, President Barack Obama says, he's not budging. This is the confrontational Obama, the "Make my day" president, betting Republicans blink to avoid a government shutdown or a first-ever default of the nation's debts.

It's a proposition not without risk and one with a history of last-minute accommodations on both sides. Brinkmanship between Obama and congressional Republicans has often stopped at the precipice's edge.

In this round, however, the president and his aides maintain that when it comes to raising the government's borrowing authority and meeting its debt obligations, there's no bargaining.

"The entire world looks to us to make sure that the world economy is stable. You don't mess with that," Obama said Thursday. "And that's why I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America."

Still, House Speaker John Boehner says a debt hike must be linked to budget cuts and other programmatic changes.

"The president says, 'I'm not going to negotiate,'" Boehner said. "Well, I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work that way."

Obama's stance is rooted in experience, politics and a desire to protect himself from similar demands in the remaining three years of his presidency.

Obama advisers note that past negotiations have not yielded grand bargains and that the mere threat of default in 2011 rattled the economy, causing a downgrade in U.S. credit. Talks earlier this year to avoid automatic spending cuts known as sequestration also failed.

Obama aides also note that Boehner himself eight months ago declared an end to negotiations with Obama, favoring the regular legislative process instead.

That process has proved messy for the GOP and senior White House aides insist that in a standoff, Republicans will be perceived as the unreasonable party. And the White House is convinced any concession would place the president in the position of having to bargain again and again when the next debt ceiling looms.

"Every poll I've seen suggests that while no one escapes cleanly from a shutdown, the GOP would bear the brunt," former senior White House counselor and Obama adviser David Axelrod said. "The bigger danger for the president is to put himself in a position to be constantly held hostage. First they want an arm. Then they want a leg. It's unsustainable."

The likelihood of a shutdown Oct. 1 and the threat of a credit default in the ensuing weeks have mounted as conservative Republicans push to use a stopgap spending bill and an increase in the debt ceiling as leverage against Obama's 3-year-old health care law.

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, want to attach other provisions to the debt ceiling, including approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and provisions blocking pollution regulations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday demanded the GOP-controlled House simply send the Senate unencumbered spending and debt ceiling bills.

"There's no need for conversations," Reid said. "We've spoken loudly and clearly, and we have the support of the president of the United States. And that's pretty good."

The Pew Research Center, however, found nearly 6 out of 10 Americans want politicians they side with to be more willing to engage in talks. And the public split about evenly in the Pew poll on who would be responsible if the government shut down, with 39 percent blaming Republicans and 36 percent Obama and much of the rest blaming both.

"The president may not be playing this just for this set and this match," said Patrick Griffin, the White House legislative director under President Bill Clinton. "As his tenure goes on and his legacy looms larger, he might not be as poll sensitive as he might be otherwise."

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