What a difference two years makes. In 2011, Republicans huffed and puffed and blew the doors down on President Obama during the debt-ceiling debacle. That led to the sequester, arguably one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed.
As you might recall, back then, the GOP was demanding massive spending cuts as a precondition to lifting the debt limit. They were willing to let the nation default if their demands were not met. Obama was on the defensive. The economy was barely out of the recession and he was facing what many thought was going to be a tough reelection. One could hardly have blamed him for doing what he thought was best, even if, as it turned out, the deal was a bad one for him and the country.
The problem for the President, however, is that a dangerous precedent had been established. Republicans now knew that they could hold Obama hostage and, inevitably, he would blink and give into their extortion. Which is what the GOP was banking on this time around. Going into this September, the consensus among many of them was that if they simply held their breath and counted to a zillion, daddy Barack would tuck them in with a cookie and a glass of milk.
Only this time, big daddy gave them the political equivalent of a time out. Obama rejected each and every demand House Republicans made on him. First, they demanded the healthcare law be defunded. No was what they heard. Next, they demanded the law be delayed for one year. Another no. Then they insisted on a one-year delay of the individual mandate. And, still, no.
Perplexed, Republicans sulked and accused the President of not compromising. The public, however, wasn’t buying the sob story. An overwhelming majority of them blamed, and continue to blame, the GOP for the shutdown. And, as their poll numbers continue to sink faster than the Titanic, it is beginning to dawn on most of them that they aren’t going to get their way. Despite the bravado by Tea Party groups who are responsible for this shutdown and default flirtation, Obama is NOT caving as expected.
Indeed, just the opposite appears to be happening. It is the GOP that is caving. Over in the House, Republicans are now scrambling for a solution to the problem they created. More and more of them seem willing to take on the extremists in their caucus and end the siege. Over in the Senate, the less extreme – we used to refer to them as moderate – Republicans are busy putting together their own bill which they hope will reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. So far their efforts have fallen short, but at least some of them have seen the light.
In fact, the change in tone among Republicans has been remarkable to watch. In less than a week, the GOP has gone from confidently defiant to disconsolate. They are now in full retreat. Gone is any hope of either repealing or delaying Obamacare. Now the objective is to extricate themselves from this nightmare before they completely destroy themselves and the country.
Meanwhile, Obama, the man who caved in 2011, remains steadfast. He has made it abundantly clear to Republicans that he will not negotiate with a gun to his head. He’s learned his lesson from that infamous deal and has decided this time to let Harry Reid do most of the heavy lifting.
The plan appears to be working. Republicans are divided and fighting amongst themselves. Many of them are furious at the Tea Party, especially Ted Cruz, who was the provocateur in this fight and now has disappeared altogether except for the odd fundraiser or two. Long established conservative funding groups – many of them affiliated with Wall Street – have called for an end to the debt-ceiling crisis, citing the dangers of a default. Talk about tigers eating their young.
But if Republicans are truly looking for someone to direct their anger at, all they need do is look in the mirror. In 2010, they hitched their wagons to a movement that made no bones about what their intent was. Openly, Tea Party candidates boasted they would either get their way or shut down the government. Anyone who feigns shock and ignorance by the recent turn of events was either not paying attention or complicit in the game plan.
While no one knows exactly how this will play out, one thing is certain: There’s a new sheriff in town; and his name isn’t Reggie Hammond.