Obama’s Dysfunctional Shutdown Strategy

The president simply refuses to negotiate with Republicans.

President Barack Obama, shown here addressing the nation on Sept. 10, 2013, heads to New York Monday for the U.N. General Assembly.
President Barack Obama, shown here addressing the nation on Sept. 10, 2013, heads to New York Monday for the U.N. General Assembly.

President Barack Obama is acting like the head of the Democratic National Committee rather than the president of all Americans. He seems to forget that the American people voted for a divided government and want Congress and the president to negotiate.

The president is taking a huge political risk by choosing to ignore the Republicans in hopes that he can gain political capital in the long run and attempt to diminish the other side. However, his strategy is starting to backfire.

President Obama's and the liberal Democrats' refusal to negotiate with the other side is a destructive path. The Democrats believed that by painting the tea party as anarchists and Republicans as hostage takers they could win the fight. However, the Democrats are looking more like the obstructionist party, while the Republicans appear to take on the role of fighting for the people.

A White House senior administration official even stated that "we are winning … it doesn't really matter to us" how long the shutdown lasts. With those types of comments, the perception is that the White House does not care, but it does matter to those federal employees who rely on their paychecks and those individuals who depend on government services. [Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

With presidential leadership and bipartisan support, we could reach a resolution and a compromise. We are already seeing one-third of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voting with Republicans to pass the piece-meal spending bills that would reopen the National Parks, the Veterans Administration and fully fund the National Guard, among other measures. The House is voting on back pay for furloughed government workers.

So it seems that the House is working while the Senate Democrats and the president cross their arms and do nothing; they are sending the message that it does not matter to them how long the government shutdown lasts. The House Democrats are also being discredited by the Senate Democrats who refuse to support the piecemeal approach. It is all or nothing for the liberals.

In the meantime, Washington is lacking the parent in the room to help keep the process moving and resolve the gridlock. Obama needs to rise to the occasion, move beyond party politics and work with Republicans.

President Obama's delayed response in meeting with the congressional leaders on the spending bill only exasperated the problem. He took a backseat and relinquished all authority to Congress, knowing that he would refuse to deal with the Republicans. His lack of engagement and unwillingness to move an inch is frustrating and further creates division in an already radioactive and dynamic environment.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the government shutdown.]

Washington is dysfunctional because President Obama's leadership style is dysfunctional. One question is: Where is Vice President Joe Biden in all this congressional debate. Is he not the president of the Senate? In the last debt-ceiling crisis, he played a monumental role, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in striking a deal with Republicans. During this budget battle, the vice president has been missing in action. President Obama should bring Joe back. Unlike President Obama, Vice President Biden understands the Senate and is respected by his colleagues.

Republicans will continue to push back and will not relent. They will not be bullied by a president who has acted on his own for the last six years. The Republicans strongly feel that they are speaking out on behalf of the majority of Americans who disagree with the implementation of Obamacare – an unpopular law. The spending bill is one of the only opportunities left for the Republicans to make their voices heard and speak on behalf of their constituents.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Republicans are seeking fairness for all Americans under the president's health care law and that is why they are seeking a delay in the individual mandate. The Obama administration has given delays and exemptions to unions, small and big businesses and even to Congress, yet the average American has not been given the same treatment. An individual is either forced to buy health insurance or is required to pay a penalty by January if he or she is not signed up.

With the prolonged government shutdown, the hope is that the president starts to listen and act for the sake of all Americans. While President Obama will continue his campaign of blame until the government reopens, he has an opportunity to roll up his sleeves and cross the aisle. Unfortunately, based on his track record, the president has no desire to work with the other side, which leaves us stuck and leaderless.

While we cannot count on President Obama to negotiate with congressional leaders, we can only hope that congressional members on both sides can find common ground and negotiate the terms. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took the first step this week by stating that he would not let the country default and directing members to craft a bipartisan deal. That is promising news and shows willingness from the speaker to reach across the aisle and work with the Democrats. The president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., should learn from the speaker and do the same with the Republican Party, instead of doing nothing and just trying to discredit, minimize and ignore them. By following such a do-nothing strategy, the president is ignoring the voices of a large number of the American people.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Capitol Hill Shooting During Shutdown Proves the Need for Government Workers
  • Read Laura Chapin: The Government Shutdown, Obamacare and the GOP's Selfishness Problem
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