Who’s On The Other Side Of The Bargaining Table?

Bargaining with GOPSenator Dean Heller (R-NV) is sad that “Democrats are refusing to negotiate…” a standard GOP talking point du jour:

“Reached at his Senate office — where he personally spends about an hour every day taking calls during the shutdown — Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said he was disappointed Democrats were refusing to negotiate a reasonable solution to the shutdown standoff. “This is a poll-driven shutdown,” he said. (Heller said about half of the people who call him oppose the law, while the other half support it.)” [Sebelius]

The problem for the Democrats appears to be With Whom Do We Negotiate?  The negotiating partner doesn’t seem to be House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

“I know that that’s not the path he preferred,” Reid said. “I know that because we met the first week we came back in September and he told me that what he wanted was a clean CR and the $988 [billion] number.  “We didn’t like the 988 number. We didn’t like it but we negotiated. That was our compromise,” Reid added. “The exact bill that he now refuses to let the House vote on. That was our negotiation.”  [The Hill]

So, the simple and relatively obvious conclusion is that the Senate Majority Leader thought he had a deal with the House Speaker in September — which compromised to reach the $988 billion Continuing Resolution — and Speaker Boehner couldn’t deliver on his end of the bargain.

There is no sense  negotiating deals (of any ilk) when the negotiating partner cannot deliver his or her end of the bargain.  I could “negotiate” with a Rolls Royce dealership for the purchase of a lovely new ride — but since my bank account won’t cover such a delightful acquisition there’s no reason for the  dealer to waste time haggling with me.  At least one Republican House member is willing to discuss this problem:

“The longer this goes, the closer we get to the debt limit and the more the two of these roll together,” said Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma and a member of the Budget Committee. “If any agreement is going to happen we’re going to have to have multiple negotiators rather than have Boehner come back with it.” [NYT]

Multiple negotiators?  There’s a recipe for chaos. The Democrats are supposed to negotiate with whom? Speaker Boehner? and Senator Cruz? and Rep. Bachmann? and Rep. Gohmert? and Rep. Stutzman, who isn’t sure what the GOP wants? [TPM]  However, there are still hardliners who refuse to negotiate at all:

“The House’s hard-liners, however, indicated that they were not ready to give in. Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers were suffering, and more than a million more were working without pay.” “There’s some pain and suffering, but I don’t think that pain and suffering compares one bit to being stuck with a lifetime of Obamacare, so that’s why I’m holding pretty firm on this,” he said. [NYT]

So, by Senator Heller’s lights, are both the Administration and the Senate supposed to bargain coterminously with (1) the more moderate members of the House GOP caucus, (2) the House Leadership, (3) the House hardliners? To what possible end?

If the situation is, as Senator Heller asserts, a poll driven argument, then those polls aren’t looking so good for his side of the aisle:

“More than 7 in 10 say Congress should place a higher priority on passing a resolution to get the government running again, rather than stopping some provisions of the health care law from taking effect. And two-thirds say any budget agreement should be kept separate from discussions about funding the health care law; just a quarter, including a slight majority of Republicans, say a budget agreement should also cut off funding for the law.” [NYT]

If we drill down into the recent CBS polling on the shutdown we find 72% opposed shutting down the government over disputes about the new health care insurance law;  Republicans are split with 48% approving and 49% expressing disapproval. And that coveted “independent” segment — 21% approve while 76% disapprove. [TPP] This is not good territory for the national ambitions of the Republican Party.  To wit, Nevada Governor Sandoval weighs in:

“The constant focus on Congressional and White House bickering especially annoys Republican governors who feel that the party can take back the White House in 2016 if they nominate one of their own and run not only against the Democrats, but also against Washington dysfunction, much as George W. Bush did in 2000.

“There’s a clear contrast there,” Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada said of the difference between his fellow chief executives and Republicans in Washington. “People are craving leadership and craving problem-solvers.” [NYT]

It, indeed, would nice to get some “leadership and problem-solving” accomplished — but how is that done when it would take “multiple negotiators”  who range from cautiously centrist to heels dug into the ground hardliners, none of whom wish to negotiate anything?  Good question when the GOP cannot seem to productively negotiate within their own caucus.

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