Indeed, the conflict over raising the debt ceiling strikes a familiar note. And the power players are the same, too. But while President Obama talked to House Speaker Boehner almost every day during the crisis in 2011, he didn’t even convene the first White House meeting with Congressional leaders until last night – an astonishing 40 hours after the government shutdown came into effect.
Governing from afar appears to be the President’s strategy to navigate the budget crisis. And it is, to a large degree, the strategy he employed during the chemical weapons crisis in Syria.
Perhaps that is changing – at least I hope it is.
With the President having finally met with the Congressional leadership, the question of what’s next naturally comes to mind. And the answer is in a direction that neither of the two parties have recommended or pursued.
The Republicans – whose sole goal has been to hold the government hostage to defund ObamaCare – has proven to be ineffective at best, destructive at worst and clearly at odds with the will of the American people. A new Quinnipiac poll shows that 72 percent of Americans oppose shutting down the government to cut off funding to the health care law.
For President Obama – whose strategy has been that he will not negotiate with anyone about anything – it is clear that this strategy, while perhaps a short-term winner, offers no long-term solution to the very serious fiscal challenges facing the country. To be sure, a political win in this hyper-partisan climate is something to cherish, but it offers little in terms of leadership and direction for a country that is clearly at risk.
What is to be done?
The President and Congress must meld the negotiations over the debt ceiling and the government shutdown into one. Everything – and I mean everything – should be on the table.
We are facing incredible challenges. As Erskine Bowles, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff, told CNBC, “This shutdown is bad. It’s painful. It does hurt some people. It costs the taxpayers some real money. But it’s not catastrophic. We hit this debt ceiling, that’s catastrophic.”
To avoid catastrophe, as Bowles put it, we need to see comprehensive pro-growth tax reform and a renewed effort to do real entitlement reform. Democrats should make some concessions on health care, especially those not related to ObamaCare like the Medical Device tax. And Congress should pass the Vitter Amendment to make sure that Congress itself is subject to the provisions of ObamaCare like the rest of the country. No more double standards in Washington.
Put another way, there is still one last possibility for a grand bargain. But we are certainly running out of chances.
The grand bargain I outlined above would revitalize the economy, put America on a fast growth plan and hopefully balance the budget while providing actual tax reform and promoting fiscal policies that the rest of the world would respect rather than revile.
The choice is clear now for both parties. The way forward is not a Democrat or a Republican way, and it is not merely another stopgap solution. It is a combination of ideas from both sides of the aisle that will provide leadership, a strategy and course to put America back on track.