Negotiation 101: You Have to Be Able to Walk Away
President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seem hell-bent on forcing Republicans to choose default. By pre-emptively rejecting House Republicans' minor modifications to the proposed Senate deal on the shutdown and the debt ceiling, the White House and the Democrats are not just demanding that the GOP accept defeat. They are also denying the House, and the opposition, their constitutional powers.
Obama and Reid are willing to deal with Republicans--but only as a minority party on its knees. They are prepared to tolerate the House of Representatives--but only as a rubber stamp for the administration. They wish to avoid the pain of a government shutdown--yet they take special care to inflict that pain on veterans. They want to avoid a default--until they see an opportunity to fight for more government spending.
Even NBC's Chuck Todd seemed surprised by Democrats' rejection of what was largely a Republican surrender:
My colleague Mike Flynn notes: "More than specific provisions or language, Obama and Reid reject the idea that the House would even have a voice in the final negotiations." If Republicans give in now, they will never recover, and neither will the House of Representatives--not for a generation, perhaps.
Republicans have nowhere else to go. They have nothing left to offer the Democrats, who are getting all they wanted--and more, winning an Obamacare modification that benefits their union allies. Republicans have no more room to fall in the polls, either. They will not win favor by giving in--if anything, they may cause their voters to abandon them. They don't even have their own pride any more. They have nothing left to lose.
If the Senate proposal passes the House, it will have to do so with Democratic votes. Republican leaders may think they have exercised their economic responsibility, but they will have abdicated their political duty, and they will have given up on their voters and their constitutional prerogative. The only way to sustain political opposition and the separation of powers will be default. The only leverage left may be to walk away.
That may be what Obama and Reid wanted all along. For weeks, Obama has talked down the stock market, virtually begging it to react. Reid has refused to negotiate on Obamacare or to pass bills that would have funded the rest of the government. They simply refuse to co-govern according to the constitution. They are convinced the Republicans will be blamed regardless. They may be wrong. And we may be about to find out.