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This Ain't The '90s: Shutdown Negotiation A Dead Zone For Obama

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

It won't be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, either. Despite his success at cutting last-minute deals to avert disaster in recent years, the Kentucky Republican is up for re-election and is fending off conservative challenger Matt Bevin, who has been looking for any opportunity to portray him as a squish. McConnell has worked to adhere to the right's hard line positions all year.

"One real difference between what happened in '95-'96 and the current situation is that the president right now has no one to negotiate with," said Jim Manley, a longtime former Senate aide to Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy. "The Speaker clearly doesn't have control over his own caucus and Senator McConnell is all but MIA from the Senate these days, not wanting to do anything that'll get him in the crosshairs of the tea party."

President Barack Obama met with the top four congressional leaders Wednesday evening for over an hour. He "made clear to the Leaders that he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the reason things are different now is Boehner's members are arguably even less amenable to compromise than Gingrich's members were in the 1990s. But it means Boehner is effectively asking Democrats to negotiate with themselves on how much they'll give up to keep the government open and avert a debt default.

"Boehner's goal is to proceed in regular order: the House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill, we resolve the differences and it goes to the White House for President Obama's signature," said his spokesman Michael Steel. "Boehner and the President aren't going to negotiate one-on-one. BUT we can't get the ball rolling until the President (and Reid) abandon their 'hell no' stance on anything but a clean debt limit."

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who despite his grievances has been loyal to Boehner during the shutdown debacle, said "I don't think he's going to put himself back in that position" of negotiating privately with Obama, given the distrust it created early in his speakership.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has enforced a steely Democratic resolve against caving to the GOP in these fiscal fights, insisting that Republicans must learn that hostage-taking won't work. Reid led his party toward a tougher line after the debate of summer 2011 embarrassed Democrats and brought the country within 48 hours of breaching the debt limit.

"The last thing Democrats need to be doing is negotiating and compromising with themselves. That's just not going to happen," Manley said. "It's happened in the past but it's just not going to happen this time around."

Many government services have closed down and the country is barreling toward potentially the first default on its debt, which carries catastrophic implications for the U.S. and global economies. And there are no negotiations happening to avoid it. Even if Republicans did want to reach an agreement, Lux said, "without a leader who can cut a decisive deal it will be a lot more painful and messy for them."

The country, too.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.