“Defund Obamacare!” they cried at the beginning, stating their condition for reopening the government. Then they moved to delaying health care reform, delaying the individual mandate and repealing one of the health care law’s taxes. Then they started talking about another grand bargain on the budget, tax reform and entitlement cuts. When nothing worked, they simplified their ransom note, saying President Obama and the Democrats had to sit down with them and negotiate something, or anything.
“All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion,” Speaker John Boehner said Friday morning at a news conference. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, put it even more broadly, asking for the beginning of a “dialogue.” The real goal of these demands, however, is not an agreement but instead the perception that it is Mr. Obama who is being intransigent, not the House.
The variety of demands at the news conference demonstrated the incoherence of the Republican message, which is now more about saving face than about any specific policy change. On Thursday, Mr. Boehner told some Republicans privately he would never let the Treasury default on its obligations, but on camera Friday, he tied raising the debt ceiling to some unspecified budget cuts. “We ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country,” he said.
House leaders apparently expect to find answers to the most intractable economic issues facing the country while the government is closed and within days of reaching the borrowing limit.
A “dialogue,” now? With 800,000 federal employees furloughed, vital government services cut off and the economy slowing?
This is a moment for immediate action to reopen government’s doors, not the beginning of a conversation that Republicans spurned when they lacked the leverage of a shutdown. They have refused to negotiate over the Senate’s budget, they have refused to negotiate over the president’s budget, and they have refused to negotiate to make the health law more efficient, insisting only on its demise.
That’s why Democrats have no interest in the Republicans’ sudden, blatantly insincere interest in discussing what is good for the country’s future. The two sides will eventually have to reach a reckoning on long-term economic issues, but the time to do so is not while dangling over an abyss.