White House looks to avoid a premature celebration
By: Jonathan Allen and Carrie Budoff Brown
October 11, 2013 05:00 AM EDT
There’s no one dancing in the West Wing end zone.
That’s partly because the ball isn’t there yet — the shutdown isn’t over and the debt ceiling hasn’t been raised. It’s also partly because the White House knows a premature celebration could cause a backlash among Republicans whose votes will be needed and partly because the public suffered when large portions of the government closed.
But that doesn’t mean administration officials aren’t looking ahead. If a budget deal can be struck in the coming days, White House officials will surely portray it as a victory of common sense over creed, a necessary step forward for the American people so that federal operations can continue and the economy can avoid the catastrophe of a default. President Barack Obama will disavow any interest in the scorekeeping of Washington’s winners and losers.
Obama and fellow Democrats, particularly Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who urged him over the summer to adopt a hard line and keep deal-making Vice President Joe Biden out of the mix, know that their unwillingness to give an inch dragged some of their most ardent Republican adversaries to the position of just wanting to end the pain. They also know that the GOP suffered even greater self-inflicted damage by letting the government shut down before coming to the conclusion that the public agreed with the president’s position.
“This was entirely predictable,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a conservative who warned Republicans not to shut down the government over Obamacare. “But at the end, everybody loses. This isn’t about some political game.”
Of course, the final details haven’t been worked out, and the progress made toward a deal on Thursday could blow up at any time. It also won’t be a clean win — the GOP will need enough of a fig leaf to claim that there was a compromise, and Obama seems open to finding one that doesn’t cost him much of anything. House Republicans could return with a proposal to reopen the government that includes demands that Obama can’t accept, such as major changes to Obamacare.
Throughout, the problem for House Speaker John Boehner has been that many rank-and-file Republicans became committed to fighting Obamacare even if it meant shutting down the government or flirting with default. Even as he tried to lead them away from a political debacle, they kept snapping him back into line with the party’s conservative wing.
Though the president and his aides have often gently mocked the speaker’s inability to corral his herd, Obama is described as having sympathy for his predicament. And Obama’s meeting with House Republicans on Thursday night was clearly designed to show that he’s willing to find a solution that allows them to save at least a little face while giving up on their demands.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) described Obama as a “firm but conciliatory president who understands Republicans have put themselves in a box” after House Democrats met at the White House on Wednesday.
Regardless, the near-complete surrender of the GOP is clear. Republicans long ago ceded their major policy demands. At first, they insisted that they would only fund the government and raise the debt ceiling if Obama agreed to sign legislation de-funding his signature health care law.
Recognizing that wouldn’t happen, Republicans moved on to insisting that he delay implementation of the individual mandate, which requires the uninsured to sign up for coverage or pay a fine. Obama said all along that he wouldn’t give anything up to get a debt-limit hike and that he wouldn’t rewrite Obamacare to do that or keep the government open.
After Oct. 1, when the government shut down, and registration for Obamacare’s health exchanges opened, Republicans began to have trouble defining what it was they were after.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
By early this week, with polling showing they were losing the fight, Republicans in Congress began looking for a way out of their political mess. While the House GOP wants to raise the debt limit for six weeks while continuing to negotiate over the budget, some Senate Republicans have seen enough of this movie and might vote for the one-year debt-limit hike Reid plans to bring to the floor on Saturday.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Thursday night – and no doubt reflecting what both White House and Republican pollsters already knew – showed the public approval rating for Republicans at 24 percent, an all-time low in the history of the survey. Seventy percent of respondents said the congressional GOP was putting politics before the good of the country, and, worst for the GOP, the numbers for Obamacare have actually risen during the shutdown.
Thirty-eight percent of Americans now see the Affordable Care Act as a good idea, up from 31 percent last month, according to the poll. And while 43 percent see it as a bad idea – about the same as last month – 50 percent now say they oppose de-funding the law.
“That is an ideological boomerang,” Bill McInturff, a GOP pollster who teamed up with Democrat Peter Hart on the survey, told NBC. “As the debate has been going on, if there is a break, there is a break against the Republican position.”