With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.
The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.
Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.
Democrats can argue with some justice that the president’s reelection was based in part on his desire to preserve ObamaCare. But so long as he lacks a majority in both houses of Congress, the issue is not completely settled. Given that he has begun to postpone some elements of the program, it is not unreasonable that Republicans would seek more delay of a vast expansion of government power that may make health care less affordable despite the official title of the bill. Having passed it via a partisan vote after a ruthlessly cynical legislative process that did not correct its obvious flaws and unwieldy nature, Democrats are determined to carry ObamaCare through to implementation without ever listening to the other side. This may turn out to be good politics, but it is neither reasonable nor good policy.
There has been a good deal of criticism about Cruz’s tactics and the fact that he and other hardliners on the issue don’t appear to have a strategy to counter the Democrats’ intransigence. Whether or not it is fair, it is probably a fact that more Americans will blame the GOP than the Democrats for a shutdown. That’s why President Obama has been daring Republicans to do just that ever since the summer of 2011 when the first of a series of battles over the budget and the debt ceiling was fought.
But though Republicans might have been wise not to accept that dare, there should be no question about the fact that the president and his backers are just as responsible for the results of this brinksmanship as anyone in the GOP caucus. Had the president been willing to bend a bit on ObamaCare he would have enabled House Speaker John Boehner to come up with a deal that a majority of Republicans might have been able to live with. That he wouldn’t do so is the product not only of clever political strategy but his ideological inflexibility. Cruz’s belief that ObamaCare must be stopped at all costs has brought us to the brink today. But the same can be said of the president’s unwillingness to allow a delay in a job-killing program that is still opposed by the majority of the American public. He will stop at nothing to see it implemented. Democrats also won’t negotiate today because they fear it will set a precedent that will force them to compromise on other issues in the future. That may be clever politics but it should not be confused with good government.
We can hope that sanity will prevail in Washington today and that somehow a shutdown will be averted. But if it isn’t, Democrats will be every bit as responsible for that outcome as Republicans.