Joel Pollak of Breitbart asks a good question.
President Barack Obama told National Public Radio recently: “I shouldn’t have to offer anything.” That sounds tough, but those are words the president and his party may live to regret. As Republicans scrambled to find a way to pass funding for the federal government, the president could have extracted heavy concessions on other issues in exchange for a delay in parts of Obamacare. Instead, he just stonewalled.
That highlights the premium that the Obama administration places on Republican capitulation. Following his lead, several Democrat Senators who want to repeal Obamacare’s medical device tax voted against that repeal when Republicans included it in their funding bill. Their top priority was to defend Obama’s “red line” against negotiations–to beat the GOP, not to win substantive gains for their own policy priorities.
That is a major opportunity missed. If President Obama had demanded that House Republicans pass, say, immigration reform as the price of a delay in Obamacare, that would have been tough to refuse. It certainly would have put Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has led the charge against both amnesty and Obamacare, in a bind. Alternatively, Obama could have asked for action on gun control, among other issues.
In one sense, this is easy to explain. If Obama has decided, whether for reasons of pride or strategy, that he won’t offer concessions on ObamaCare for fear that it’ll encourage the GOP to keep picking away at the law, then obviously the counter-demand approach is a nonstarter. As much as he’d like the GOP to agree to an amnesty — and I think Pollak’s right that a lot of Republicans would think hard about that, knowing that they could blame O for driving a hard bargain in voting yes — evidently he believes that his legacy turns on ObamaCare. Better to protect his baby and get nothing out of this process than start making deals and set the precedent that O-Care is fair game for concessions in the future.
So far, so good. But what about Pollak’s point about gun control? What if, in response to the GOP’s demand for ObamaCare defunding, Obama decided to add an assault-weapons ban as his price for agreeing to fund the government? That’s a different kind of counter-demand than amnesty: The GOP might actually agree to immigration reform in exchange for delaying O-Care for a year, but they’d never agree to an AWB and Obama knows it. But, precisely for that reason, it would be useful to him politically. He could make that point that, just as Republicans are asking him to give up a core part of the Democratic agenda — a program the public hasn’t even had a chance to try yet — he’s asking them to give up a core part of the Republican agenda. And, just as it’s unrealistic to expect the GOP to agree and therefore unfair to condition funding of the government upon it, it’s unrealistic and unfair for the GOP to demand ObamaCare concessions. He could even say, “As soon as Republicans drop their ObamaCare demands, I’ll drop the assault-weapons ban. I’m only listing it as a demand now to prove a point.” That way, he’d protect himself from the charge that he’s the one driving the shutdown by insisting on something unreasonable as his price for ending it.
Why doesn’t he do that? When I tweeted out that question along with a link to Pollak’s post, a few liberals tweeted back that O would never do such a thing because “he doesn’t negotiate with TERRORISTS.” But … he wouldn’t be negotiating in the hypothetical I just laid out. Demanding an assault-weapons ban wouldn’t be a legit demand, just a rhetorical device he’d be using to put Republicans on the defensive. At the very least, it would shift some of the attention away from criticisms of ObamaCare to criticisms of conservative gun policy. If his goal here is to break the GOP and convince them that using fiscal deadlines to extract concessions is a dead end (which is very much his goal with the debt-ceiling deadline looming), then this would be one way to do it. And yet he hasn’t. Why?
Maybe the answer is as simple as O believing his own BS about being the “adult in the room” and not stooping to Republican tactics. Even then, though, his refusal to make counter-demands doesn’t make sense, since the whole point of the scenario I laid out would be to show how supposedly childish it is to attach ideological demands to keeping the government’s lights on. Believe it or not, Carney was asked about this at today’s White House briefing and … he had no real answer either, except to say that O “won’t play the Republican game.” Why not, if it might convince them to stop playing?
Maybe he’ll end up doing something like this after all. According to some estimates, the shutdown could last two weeks.