In the wake of the partial government shut-down, with the vivid reminder of closures of our national monuments, many people blame the President and Democrats who agree with him. Others blame the Republicans in Congress.
Neither side appears to have wavered much from their mantras, shown much independence, or demonstrate any ability to negotiate.
And that’s the problem.
Without strong leaders in Congress willing to negotiate to get things done on key policy issues, the mantra falls to the President. When the President and the Congress fail to agree, the government shuts down.
There are many complicated aspects to the Washington drama that involve the debt ceiling, the appropriations process, continuing resolutions, and lots of other hard to understand “process” issues that Congress must follow.
But beyond the weeds and sausage-making are simple approaches that impact American families and people who own small businesses. We negotiate with our business colleagues and families to reach civility, certainty, and common ground using common sense. Washington has lost track of these simple principles.
Relationships are critical in Washington. The lack of trust between the President and Congress is evident, and it’s frustrating to Americans watching.
It falls to the President to be the “adult” when it comes to negotiating on budget priorities in the wake of congressional bickering. He must act like he’s the head of the household when family members are squabbling in the Congress.
Instead, he’s thumbing his nose at Republicans and playing the blame game. He thinks that because the polls say that Congress shouldn’t shut down the government because of problems with Obamacare, he’s somehow “winning”.
U.S. Majority Leader Harry Reid jumped into the fray as well, calling Speaker Boehner a ‘coward’. Really?
Everyday Americans wonder why the Congress and the President are acting like school yard bullies who can’t get along. If they were in their kids’ play yard, they’d tell their kids to avoid these bullies. Now, everyone looks like a bully in Washington.
These real life, working families are becoming more frustrated by the day. They create jobs, pay the household bills, drive their kids to school, and like to hike in a scenic park on the weekend. If their weekend getaway is a national park, it may be closed. And that’s why they’re pissed.
Republicans are to blame as well. They must do a better job defining the debate beyond just Obamacare. There is a lack of a big picture understanding of what bloated government programs really cost. The price tag has increased. We are now $17 trillion in debt. Who’s paying for this? Our kids will bear this burden.
As families struggle to find good jobs and an increasing number of baby boomers remain under-employed, there is more focus on family and personal budgeting.
Still, the Republicans’ message hasn’t penetrated. They need to talk beyond their base on the risks of Obamacare to Latinas who own small businesses and Asian moms who worry about the cost of their kids’ education. They need to build a greater awareness that the sweeping health care reform known as Obamacare is too risky of an investment to make right now.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn said today that the Obamacare price tag started at $863 million but that the price tag has gone up. Rep. Peter Roskam said on CNBC that Obamacare would cost $1.9 trillion over 10 years. That’s a lot of dough to shell out for a program that is showing problems with implementation and enrollment its first week. The uncertainty of the price points and the way the law is structured is a problem that the Obama Administration ignores.
Americans watching the Washington drama will be weary of signing up for Obamacare because they lack trust in their government in the wake of bickering and shutdowns.
The last time the government was shut down was seventeen years ago. At that time, I worked on Capitol Hill. It was 1996, and it was the classic battle between President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, and U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Back then, Bob Dole was able to make a deal with Clinton and Gingrich and get things moving again. Yes, it was a Presidential election year; but in spite of the political posturing (remember Dole ran against Clinton), they got it done because they truly believed that the American people deserved a well-run government. Neither side got exactly what they wanted, but they were able to negotiate a deal.
A friend who was part of the Reagan Revolution said to me today:
“I never thought I’d say this – but I miss Bill Clinton”.
It wasn’t an endorsement of Hilary 2016, but a statement from a time when a Democrat President was willing to work with a Republican Congress to get things done.
The expectation was set years earlier by Republican President Ronald Reagan, U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (a Democrat), and Howard Baker, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader. I’ll never forget a picture that Tip O’Neill penned to Senators Bob Dole and Howard Baker. It read:
“We three, Americans first.”
These are two examples of divided government under two different Presidents. They understood that they needed to get along and get things done.
President Obama is the head of American government and needs to spend some time getting to know the people in Congress. He must extend a more welcoming hand, find common ground, and expend some of his political capital and work with – not against – his family in Congress. People expect that of our leader. To do anything less is childish and unbecoming of a head of state.
This commentary originally appeared at ThoughtfulWomen.org.
Photo credit: terrellaftermath