The Truth About the GOP's Phony Shutdown Offer

Oct 14, 2013Jeff Madrick

President Obama can't negotiate with Republicans if they won't drop their threats against the government and the economy.

It’s very important that President Obama and his aides make clear to the American public that the Republican Party’s right wing, supported by moderates, offered no serious deal to him by proposing a postponement of their threat to let the U.S. default. They pointed a gun at his head and then said they may not pull the trigger for another six weeks. That is still extortion of the worst kind. Obama is simply saying, “Put the gun down and I will negotiate.”   

I notice a bias in the media. For example, The Wall Street Journal’s front page today said point blank that Obama turned down the Republicans’ offer to negotiate without mentioning that they did not withdraw their threat to do this all over again, which is the obstacle in the first place.

Meanwhile, I was asked by Sky News yesterday why I am only picking on Republicans. I answered that any make-believe that there is even partial blame to go around is nonsense. Sky wasn’t taking sides so much as doing that “even-handed’ thing that mainstream media thinks passes for objectivity.    

The public can be easily seduced by the Republicans’ non-offer, so Obama constantly has to make clear they made no real offer.

The substance of all this is often lost, too. First of all, why is this small group of Republicans so profoundly disturbed by Obamacare? Here’s where a bit of history hurts. We remember that universal health care failed to get passed under FDR, who wanted such a system. It made perfectly good sense to him. The American Medical Association, the doctors’ organization, pushed hard against it, and the phrase “socialized medicine” in a time of rising anti-communism struck a chord among the people. FDR lost the battle.

We assume those same sentiments are still at work. Now, of course, big pharma and insurance companies are often the opposition to single-payer. And no doubt there is still a lot of nonsense about not letting Uncle Sam into our medical offices or creating requirements to buy insurance.

But in the case of Obamacare, we may be fooling ourselves. The source of opposition to it could be as simple as intense racial prejudice and anti-abortion attitudes. Obamacare would radically expand Medicaid, a service for the poor. In the South, that mostly means black people. And many southern governors, even though it would cost them almost nothing because the federal government would pick up 90 percent of the cost, are not implementing the plan.   

The Republicans also want a “conscience” clause to allow individual corporations to refuse abortion financing. The Washington Post reported that in a closed-door session, Paul Ryan said Republicans can’t accept an extension of the deadline because they need it as “leverage” for demanding the conscience clause. Undermining Obamacare is still high on the agenda.   

The Republican counter, of course, made it seem that Obamacare wasn’t their current concern anymore, and that a broad negotiation to reduce the deficit was now the issue. On this, Larry Summers has an important piece in the Financial Times today showing that the 10-year deficit is now a non-issue. More important, he is claiming the long-term deficit is also a non-issue. By his calculation, we only have to grow by 0.2 percent more a year to keep it manageable, even as Medicare and Medicaid costs rise rapidly.  

Coming from the man who seemed to support a budget deficit-cutting commission early in Obama’s term, when he should have known better, this seems to be a helpful shift back to reality.

Growth is what matters, to which the Republican respond that they want more government cuts. The Senate Democrats won’t agree to retain the sequester and thereby do a deal with the Senate Republicans, but Mitch McConnell boasts how much it has cut government spending. He left out the part about how it is seriously impeding America’s economic growth at the same time. 

Without the sequester, the U.S. would very likely be growing at a healthy pace now, reducing unemployment and probably the deficit compared to GDP as well.

It would be nice to get serious talk about the economy back on track. The media could help. Wishful thinking.

Jeff Madrick is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

Share This