Obama: GOP Hostage-Taking Tactics are Reckless...Unlike My Own, Of Course

Posted: Oct 09, 2013 10:20 AM

Katie wrote up President Obama's press conference yesterday afternoon -- and Dan covered Speaker Boehner's response -- but I think a few points are worth revisiting:

(1) Over and over again, the president denounced GOP "threats" and actions that he said resemble "hostage-taking" behavior. It's totally irresponsible, he intoned, for Republicans to play wield their leverage to keep the government shut down or to mess around with "default." (This link helps elucidate some important distinctions about that term). Obama wants Republicans to give him what he wants -- namely a clean temporary budget to end the shutdown, and a clean debt ceiling hike, which the public strongly opposes. In both cases, "clean" means no-strings-attached in terms of reforms, cuts, concessions, etc. His contention on the former issue is that Democrats have already compromised by agreeing to Republican-preferred spending levels for the new CR, which sounds significant...until you recall that those levels are already mandated under current law, signed by Barack Obama. On the latter point, Obama says playing political games with the debt limit is unacceptable. If only he'd given himself, and every Senate Democrat, the same lecture in 2006. I actually agree with him that the debt ceiling should be raised post haste, and letting that standoff drag on and fester is terrible governance and even worse economics. Obama built a strong case for why a even a partial default could be catastrophic for average people, to our credit rating, and in terms of market perceptions. What he couldn't explain is why he won't negotiate with Republicans to avert the catastrophe he spelled out in such stark terms. Attempts to call that sort of compromise "unprecedented" fail the test of recent history. Obama cut a deal with Republicans (after walking away from a big agreement, then falsely blaming Boehner) on this exact question in 2011. Nevertheless, the most telling exchange came when CBS News' Mark Knoller asked the only challenging question of the hour-long performance:

Obama said he's "tempted" sign House-passed bills that would fund Head Start, FEMA, the FDA, NIH, and the like, but he can't. (As a sidenote, he's already done so once during this skirmish, and he's backing another piecemeal bill). Why not? The key quote:

"But here's the problem. What you've seen are bills that come up where Republicans are feeling political pressure, and they but a bill forward. And if there's no political heat, if there's no television story on it, then nothing happens."

In other words, Obama won't sign popular, widely-supported funding measures to help alleviate the effects of the shutdown because if he did, the "heat" and "pressure" on Republicans would evaporate. Which sounds an awful lot like hostage taking. He is holding popular appropriations hostage to getting the whole government funded within his preferred parameters. That's politics as usual. But he can't sit on his high horse about Republicans' terrible, horrible tactics when he's essentially doing the exact same thing. He says he'll negotiate with GOP leaders after they accede to his requests. Fine, but what incentive would he have to budge in the future when his refusal to budge while the heat is hottest has contributed to the current shutdown? And why should Republicans trust him to compromise in good faith later, when they'll hold fewer cards?

Over the course of the presser, Obama was not asked a single question about the government's cartoonish and spiteful "shutdown theater," such as barricading popular open-air monuments, shutting down private businesses and parks, and...this surreal federal thuggery at Yellowstone National Park:

The bus stopped along a road when a large herd of bison passed nearby, and seniors filed out to take photos. Almost immediately, an armed ranger came by and ordered them to get back in, saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The tour guide, who had paid a $300 fee the day before to bring the group into the park, argued that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos. “She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said. The seniors quickly filed back onboard and the bus went to the Old Faithful Inn, the park’s premier lodge located adjacent to the park’s most famous site, Old Faithful geyser. That was as close as they could get to the famous site — barricades were erected around Old Faithful, and the seniors were locked inside the hotel, where armed rangers stayed at the door. “They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed. They told us you can’t go outside,” she said. “Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”

Read this full post -- the situation somehow gets worse. But our truth-to-power titans in the White House press corps couldn't muster one question on these cynical actions specifically designed to inflict pain on the very citizens the government exists to "serve."

(3) Most gallingly, the same group of reporters failed to ask one solitary question about the president's signature healthcare law, which has shown itself to be one of the most disastrous government failures in recent memory over its first week of existence. Its champion faced zero questions about any of this. Literally the toughest questions asked of top administration officials pertaining to this trainwreck over the last 36 hours came from a comedian. Such is the state of American journalism. I excoriated the press corps for its collective dereliction of duty with Neil Cavuto last evening:

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