NEGOTIATE: Isn’t that what people do when they want to settle a dispute? People sit down and talk it over and reach a motus vivendi, an understanding. In today’s parlance: Let’s Make A Deal!
On its face, it sounds so reasonable.
How could anything be wrong with that?
And that is exactly what the Republicans hope the American people will think. In such a scenario it is the Democratic Party who will look petty and uncompromising. People will forget about who shutdown the government and concentrate on the negotiations. The focus will be on which party is the more reasonable. Negotiation equals reasonableness. In an attempt to keep things going a little longer, the media seems to be providing the Republicans with a little extra help in that department. They seem to be blaming both parties equally instead of the real culprit, the Tea Party Republicans. Remember what started this impasse. So, instead of fixing the blame on one group, the media is making both sides equally bad and equally good in the eyes of the public. The polls seem to bear that out, too. While the Democrats are leading, it is not an overwhelming lead and it could quickly evaporate. Negotiating is a good strategy for the Republicans and may even work. They think by saying they want to negotiate, they will win the war of words in the press, and thus win over public opinion to their side. And if it works what do the Republicans hope to get out of it? Clearly, the Republican Party wants a do-over with the Affordable Care Act. They wish it would just go away. For the moment, it is their top priority. Of course, the task of the Democrats is just the opposite. They need to keep the nation’s focus on the shutdown and the damage it is doing, not the issue of negotiations.
So, say they do that. Say the parties roll the dice and move off of square one to the square marked . . . “sit down together.” By sitting down to talk or negotiate, each side is conceding that they will bargain in good faith and they will be flexible. That is a prerequisite to doing a deal. But, is that really going to happen? Ask yourself, which side will have to do most of the conceding? Who has the most to gain from negotiating? The answers are already self-evident, but let’s go through the process anyway.
So, at the moment, which side appears to have the stronger position?
On the surface, it would appear to be the Democrats. After all they hold power in two of the three federal branches of government, and the Affordable Care Act is law. The act went through all the hoops it needed to become a law. It passed both houses and was signed into law by the president. It also passed constitutional muster in the Supreme Court, a court dominated by conservative justices. The Democrats have played by all the rules on how to govern (, and are punished for it). Meanwhile, there are the Republicans. On occasion, because they are the minority party, they like to make up their own rules. They hold only one branch of government, the House of Representatives, but they can delay passage of bills, budgets, and other agreements that the Democrats and the country need and want. They can even kill a bill outright. They are also very good at manipulating the public and the media, and they are far more skilled at it then the Democrats. So it seems each party has its strengths and weaknesses.
So, why negotiate?
Each side has to want to get something out of the negotiations. For the Republicans in the House the answer is obvious. They wish to repeal Obamacare, and there is a vote coming up on the debt ceiling. (The US has bills to pay, bills the country already owes, and to do that the country needs to raise the debt ceiling, raise cash.) But that’s another issue that will come up in a week or two. Let’s focus back on the more immediate concerns of the Affordable Care Act and the shuttering of the government. The Republican House has passed 41 resolutions to kill ObamaCare in the hope that the Senate will go along with them. They also want to show their constituents back home how much they hate the federal government, government debt, Obama, and Obamacare. This is nothing new. They have said such things in the past. However, up until now the Republicans have not been able to thwart the majority Democrats and the Affordable Care Act. Keep in mind these are Tea Party Republicans, and they are also attacking mainstream Republicans for being too cozy with the Democrats. Many of these more “moderate” Republicans are staying out of the fray. Even Mitch McConnell [R], the Senate minority leader and hardly a moderate–the very guy who said the main priority of the Republican Party was to make Obama a one term president . . . even he is under attack by the Tea Party faction back in his home state, and he is up for re-election. This fear factor among moderates is a big part of the problem. These people are more worried about losing their seat in Congress rather than being concerned with finding a solution to the country’s problems that both sides can live with. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is adamantly opposed to any negotiation that doesn’t deal with their concerns, as well as being opposed to any further funding of the federal government. This is a matter of principle for them. It is their religion. So, it is not surprising they claim Obamacare will hurt business, cause the destruction of liberty, and is ultimately unfair to the people of the United States. They may also claim it caused damage to the nation’s wheat crop, though that is just speculation on their part. In recent days, they have gone from trying again to repeal Obamacare to repealing parts of it to delaying its implementation for at least a year. Their final act has been to shut the government down to get their way, a strategy they have used in the pass, with some success. They are in essence holding the country and the economy hostage to get what they want. And the worst is yet to come. Remember, . . . the issue of the debt ceiling is still looming.
The Democrats on the other hand have nothing to gain and everything to lose from negotiation. They have the healthcare law already in place and funded. It is being rolled out in the states at this very moment.
But what happens if the Republicans are able to bring the Democrats to the negotiating table?
It could be argued that even if the Republican Party is able to convince the American public to back them instead of the Democrats and their new health law, they will, in the end, contribute to a weakening of the US government, the country’s social bonds, the economy, and the constitution. The evidence is beginning to accumulate, certainly on the economic front. The stock market has been loosing ground since the shutdown. Investor and consumer confidence is dropping. Foreign markets are also falling in response to the shutdown. Some people are predicting another recession if this impasse isn’t soon settled. All of this and more happened in only a three-day time period. The consequences long-term could be catastrophic. Shutting down the government is serious business. It is not just a simple strategy to do away with one healthcare law. Hardly.
But its impact goes beyond the economic ramifications. As mentioned, there are political, constitutional, and social consequences as well. It is a bald face attempt by one party to gain control of the government through means other than through the ballot box. This is as close to an attempt by a political party to take over the government as this country has seen since the 1860s. This strategy is nothing less than a nullification of federal law in sheep’s clothing. Nullification is a strategy whereby states ignore or over ride federal law. This was common practice in southern states in the years leading up the Civil War. It was unconstitutional, but those states did it anyway. They felt they were in the right. Sound familiar? Remember what the South was fight for before and during the war. If Congressional Republicans are able to carryout this strategy, they will indeed have taken, in some ways, the country back to a time before that war. The issues back then were slavery and individual states rights against the federal government. Southern states regularly ignored federal laws they didn’t agree with. In many respects the Tea Party Republicans are doing the same thing. They are still fighting that same tired old battle. This time ’round they aren’t threatening session, but rather the highly destructive strategy of a government shutdown. But here, the irony is palpable. It was the Lincoln Republicans of the 1860s who supported federal policies and who stood up to the southern Democrats, the Tea Partiers of the time.
But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Will it be long before the Democrats do the same thing? All one has to do to get one’s way is to take over one house of government to win. How long will Social Security and Medicare last, or other popular programs if the Republicans get away with this strategy this time? What about allocations for the Defense Department? Many liberals would like to see this money disappear. And state governments are immune, either.
Indeed, how long will it be before the American people grow tired of all the squabbling in Washington and demand negotiations start? Demand that the parties compromise. It is understandable if the public demands to see some sort of movement, but is it the right move for the country? The Republicans are counting on the American people to demand negotiations begin. If successful, such a strategy would make all other branches of government and all levels of government seemingly irrelevant. It could be argued that it imbalances our democratic system in favor of single, like-minded group of individuals, like the Tea Party. Imagine a minority of individuals, an oligopoly, determining what is best for the rest of us. Isn’t that what the Tea Party members are, a minority attempting to dominate the majority. Voting will become irrelevant. It won’t matter if you are in the majority. The majority doesn’t count anymore. Taken to the extreme, they can hold the society as a whole hostage to their ideological desires and convictions.
Clearly, people should negotiate when there are legitimate disagreements. That is what democracies do. (And minority rights need to be protected and that protection should be found in the courts.) But negotiating under such duress, under the gun, and under the threat of economy collapse is not how to reach a viable, long lasting agreement. The Republicans are playing a very dangerous game. Historically such agreements never last and come back to haunt the group pressuring the other side to knuckle under. Consider the Versailles Treaty ending WWI. It forced a defeated Germany, its people starving and its economy in ruins, to pay billions in war reparations, to give up territory, to demilitarize, and to take the blame for the war. Most would say this treaty helped create the conditions that brought Hitler to power.
Are the Republicans so desperately afraid Obamacare will work and that people will accept it, that they would be willing to sacrifice so many things in this country? Why not wait and let the people decide if they like it or not. If it is a failure, if no one signs up, if thousands of people loose their jobs because of Obamacare, who is going to be blamed? At that point there will be plenty of pressure to change it or get rid of it all together. But, since it is already law, why not allow it to take its course and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, the Democrats will get all the blame, and the Republicans will look like heroes!
Is that a likely scenario? From many peoples’ perspective, ObamaCare could hardly be worse than the healthcare system currently in place.