It is tempting, while covering the current budget crisis, to adopt the breathless style of the long-ago war correspondent, reporting on congressional visits to the White House as though they were peace talks and press conferences as if they were an instant account of a skirmish between the warring parties. In Obama's Washington, politics is the continuation of war by other means.
But for all the bluster, it is the president – aided by Nevada's Harry Reid, his principal footman in the United States Senate – who is out to obliterate the Republican Party. My colleagues in the major media may report otherwise but their news stories and stand up reporting from the front lawn of the presidential mansion and from inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol have become instruments of battle, propaganda that casts one side in the white hats and the other in black.
President Obama has been repeatedly disingenuous in his description of how budgeting and appropriations are done in Washington. This may be excused by the simple fact that he was not in the nation's capital for very long before becoming president and may just not know any better. On the other hand he may also be deliberately misstating the case to leave people with the impression that Congress votes once, up or down, on how much money the federal government will have to spend in a given year.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. It is hard to explain the federal budgeting process without entering into a political science lecture that will have most everyone reaching for the sports scores after the third paragraph. Suffice it to say that under current law, a law that has been in place for nearly a third of a century, the funding decisions made by Congress are presented to the president in a piecemeal fashion.
To put it another way, consider the amount of money appropriated by the Congress to run the federal government as a large chocolate cake. Under regular order, which the Democrats and Republicans both tried to follow from Nixon through George W. Bush, the Congress would send the cake to the president a slice or two at a time.
Since serious negotiations have all but broken down as of the time this blog post was composed, the Republicans have fallen back on a strategy that involves sending the cake to the president a crumb at a time. A bill here to keep the National Parks open, a bill there to allow military chaplains to serve Mass without fear of arrest, another to secure back pay for federal workers furloughed because of the lack of agreement between Congress and the president on spending priorities. It a version, much scaled down but much more alike than different of what the current law requires.
The disconnect comes at the level of the president, who has repeatedly told Congress and repeatedly told the American people that he will accept the whole cake or nothing at all – and he is using his Senate lackey Reid to back him up by not letting the Senate act on these small pieces of legislation lest he and Obama lose control of the process.
For his part Reid has been particularly venomous in a manner little seen since the late Joseph McCarthy skulked through the halls of the Capitol's north side. He has taken gross liberties with the facts, taken quotes from former Republican National Committee Chairmen Haley Barbour and Ed Gillespie out of context while speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate as to infer they both agree with Obama's view of the world (which may be the subject of a future blog post) and had the temerity to blame two American business leaders – Charles and David Koch, whose conservative philanthropic activities cause apoplexy on left – for the entire government shutdown. Would that J.P. Morgan or John D. Rockefeller had that much power in their salad days.
Negotiated agreements between conflicting parties have been a part of the American system since the Constitution was created. Anyone who has read “The Federalist Papers” or studied the creation of the nation's founding document know that our supreme law was the result of numerous comprises among competing interests. Even the decision to locate the capital city on the banks of the Potomac River near the home of George Washington was the result of a grand compromise that allowed the nation to move forward and deal responsibly with its war debt.
The president has invited congressional Republicans to the White House Thursday to discuss the situation. The invitation no doubt springs from the news that his approval rating has sunk to 37 percent in one new poll. That he is in political trouble may have slowly begun to dawn on him. Some of the American people were born at night but they were not all born last night. The way he has overplayed his hand, while comforting his left-liberal base, is beginning to grate on the sensible center. The longer he waits to deal, the more he refuses to govern, the harder it will be for him to preserve his objectives. He would be smart to agree to a one-year delay in the enactment of Obamacare, especially the individual mandate, declare victory and move on.