4 reasons President Obama isn't negotiating with Republicans

The GOP has blasted the president for refusing to compromise

Obama and Biden are sitting pat.
(Image credit: (Getty Images))

As the government shutdown enters its second week and Congress hurtles toward a deadline to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans are coalescing around a message that they appear to believe will sway public opinion in their favor: President Obama refuses to negotiate.

Never mind that earlier this year House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a big deal about foregoing any budget negotiations with the president. This week, he accused Obama and the Democrats of "risking default by not having a conversation" about a variety of Republican demands, including defunding or delaying ObamaCare and broader cuts to the budget.

The stakes in this fight are high. Not only are 800,000 federal employees out of work, but the U.S. government is expected to hit its borrowing limit in less than 10 days. If the the United States defaults on its debts, economists say the country would likely be plunged into another recession — one that the Treasury Department warned could be even worse than the last one.

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But Democrats show few signs of compromising, even as Republicans fight among themselves over whether or not to strike a potential deal. Here are four reasons Obama and the Democratic Party are standing firm.

1. They feel they have already compromised

Remember the sequester? The Democrats do. They weren't too happy about it back in March, when they were forced to swallow $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts because the two parties couldn't agree on a long-term budget.

Still, on September 27, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a continuing resolution that kept those spending cuts in place, funding the government at $988 billion — lower than the $1.058 trillion they initially wanted.

The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky explains:

[T]his whole thing started with a significant Democratic compromise. But once the Republicans decided that they were going to use both the shutdown and the debt ceiling to try to defund and/or delay ObamaCare, they couldn't even vote for a bill that gave them a major fiscal victory. [The Daily Beast]

Yes, some Republicans don't like the sequester's defense cuts. But many Tea Partiers "learned to love" the sequester, writes The New York Times's Annie Lowrey, while pretty much every Democrat views it as a disaster, since it bites into aid programs that are already strapped. That explains why Democrats view the GOP's current demands as gratuitous: They come on top of concessions that have already been made.

2. It would set a bad precedent

As Obama himself has argued, if he gives in to the GOP's demands, then it would set a precedent for any minority party to use the debt limit as a very dangerous weapon to extract concessions.

Even Republicans might not like that, warns The Washington Post's Dana Milbank:

Under that standard, a small band of future Democrats could shut down the government if a future Republican president didn't agree to, say, strict gun controls, abortion on demand, a carbon tax, a higher minimum wage, expanded Social Security and Medicare benefits, or open borders.

Had this been the standard before, Democrats might have shut down the government to try to force George W. Bush to end the Iraq War, or to make Ronald Reagan end his arms race with the Soviets. [Washington Post]

The fact that the shutdown was carefully planned and funded, as reported by The New York Times, by conservative activists means that Democrats have every reason to think that Republicans will try this again in the future — unless Obama draws a line in the sand.

3. Republicans are asking for way too much

Obama obviously isn't going to repeal or delay ObamaCare, which duly passed Congress in 2010, was upheld by the Supreme Court, and survived a presidential election. And in terms of what Republicans have in mind for the budget, their reported offer skews heavily toward Republican priorities, while barely acknowledging Democratic preferences.

Indeed, previous, torturous negotiations between Obama and Boehner have shown that there is very little Republicans are prepared to accept, particularly when it comes to new government revenue.

While advocating for Obama to offer an olive branch, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat acknowledges that the president has every reason "to avoid making any kind of concessions to an opposition party that's locked into essentially unreasonable demands."

4. The public blames the Republicans for the shutdown

To be clear, nobody is coming out of this smelling like roses. Still, the GOP is hurting far worse than the Democratic Party.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that a whopping 70 percent of Americans disapprove of how Republicans have handled the government shutdown, compared with the 51 percent who disapprove of Obama's performance. Even 59 percent of self-described conservatives don't like what Republicans are doing.

Those numbers are consistent with the theory that "the executive benefits and the legislature is punished" during government shutdowns, writes The Washington Post's Ezra Klein. In political terms, that "would suggest that a shutdown would be bad for everyone serving in Congress, but good for Obama."

That might not turn out to be true. But it certainly gives the president more of an incentive to stand firm while Republicans flounder.

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