Woodward: If Obama Won't Negotiate, Any Resulting Crisis is "On His Head"

Posted: Sep 30, 2013 12:33 PM
Woodward: If Obama Won't Negotiate, Any Resulting Crisis is "On His Head"

Will veteran journalist Bob Woodward end up back in the Obama administration's doghouse? If he keeps disrupting the narrative, he just might. On MSNBC this morning, Woodward expressed bafflement over the president's refusal to even engage in discussions with the GOP, noting that history tends to mark major events through the prism of presidencies:

"If there is a downturn or a collapse or whatever could happen here that’s bad, it’s going to be on [Obama's] head. The history books are going to say, we had an economic calamity in the Presidency of Barack Obama. Speaker Boehner, indeed, is playing a role on this. Go back to the Great Depression in the 1930s. I’ll bet no one can name who was the speaker of the House at the time. Henry Thomas Rainey. He’s not in the history book. It’s on the President’s head. He’s got to lead. He’s got to talk. And the absence of discussion here, I think, is baffling element.

There's a slight catch here. Woodward is talking about the next looming crisis -- ie, the debt limit. Within the next few weeks, the federal government's authority to borrow additional money to cover its bills is set run out, which would result in the possibility of a partial default. This outcome could imperil America's already-downgraded credit rating. An additional downgrade wouldn't just be a black eye for Washington, it would hurt average people. That's why after a bruising and prolonged fight, Congress and the president eventually averted a critis by striking the debt deal of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling by more than $2 trillion in exchange for spending cuts. Uncle Sam has since blown through that borrowing authority and again stands hat-in-hand, demanding more. In spite of the cross-ideological consensus that the debt limit must be increased, the American people aren't keen on Obama's demand for a "clean" hike (meaning no accompanying cuts or reforms); indeed, they strongly oppose raising the debt ceiling at all. This is why some observers believe Republicans have a relatively strong hand to play in that forthcoming battle. The public is on their side, and Obama's stubborn 'no-talks' position won't sit well.

But those are all coming attractions. Less than 12 hours from now, when the current temporary budget expires, the federal government is poised to enter partial shutdown. Americans would not take kindly to that eventuality, and they will assign more blame to Republicans than to the president. Democrats are well aware of this dynamic, so don't hold your breath for an eleventh-hour victory for the GOP. In fact, there are two reasons why Democrats are privately -- and in some cases, publicly -- rooting for a shutdown: First, they view the resulting opportunity demagoguery as perhaps their only path back to a House majority in 2014. Second, tomorrow is Obamacare day, and things are not expected to go smoothly. A concurrent government shutdown would consume most of the media oxygen, relegating Obamacare trainwreck stories to second-tier status. Conservative columnist Marc Thiessen further elucidates this point by examining prominent Democrats' care-free conduct over the weekend:

Democrats are in such a panic over the prospect of a government shutdown that President Obama spent four hours on the golf course Saturday and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told his colleagues to take the weekend off, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi left town to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. Why show up for work? The Democrats are following Napoleon’s old adage: Never interfere when your enemy is in the process of destroying himself...Obama and the Democrats don’t care about stopping a government shutdown. With a shutdown, Republicans are essentially putting a gun to their own heads and threatening to pull the trigger if the Democrats don’t capitulate. Not surprisingly, it’s not working. Some congressional Republicans can’t seem to get it though their heads: When it comes to a government shutdown they ... have ... no ... leverage. By contrast, when it comes to the debt-limit showdown, they do have leverage.

Ramesh Ponnuru reminds us that the notion that 1995's shutdown neither damaged Republicans nor boosted Democrats is a fable at best, and dangerous revisionism at worst. The Senate gavels back into session later this afternoon. Harry Reid will likely stiff-arm the House's late night CR passed over the weekend, perhaps forcing Boehner to send over a last-ditch attempt to keep the government funded. It may contain a few irresistible Obamacare messaging nuggets such as the Vitter Amendment and another Medical Device Tax repeal, but both "defund" and "delay" will be gone. The Right would explode, and the Republican caucus would split, possibly compelling Boehner to (again) abandon the so-called "Hastert Rule," and rely on Democratic votes to move the final funding mechanism through. This might require watering down the final product even further, thus inflaming the fury of grassroots conservatives, who were led to believe that this confrontation could actually lead to the defunding of Obamacare. Here's why those expectations were fanciful. Regardless of how things play out over the next day or more, the endgame will be painful and demoralizing for Republicans -- and Democrats are delighted to sit back and watch the crack-up unfold.

Parting thought: Did John Boehner's...red baseball cap signal that at least a temporary shutdown is inevitable?