On a day that brought the first glimmers of a thaw in the 10-day government shutdown, Republican leaders in Washington came out Thursday to talk about their plan to offer President Obama a temporary hike in the debt ceiling in exchange for budget negotiations. More than 900 words later, there were a few notable ones missing.
Health? Not a word.
Obamacare, the President’s healthcare plan, was the rationale for the government shutdown; Republicans in the House declined to move on the budget unless Democrats either gutted or delayed the president’s signature domestic program. Which was not going to happen.
It would appear the substance didn’t force the change in messaging. It would appear that polling did. In one survey after another, Americans have said that, while they don’t much care for the healthcare plan, they didn’t want the federal government shut down because of it.
Time and again, Americans wanted the elected leaders they disdain to sit down and hash it out. And Republicans were taking the fall for the failure to do that; a Gallup survey released Wednesday found their favorability had dropped 10 points in a month, to 28%. (Substantially lower than the still-feeble 43% mark for Democrats).
So the public messaging on Thursday was all about negotiating, and about kids and grandkids and earnest efforts that have not been reciprocated. The exact sort of messaging, that is, that Democrats were also making.
“You know, listen, I think the president wants to deal with America's pressing problems just as much as we do,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “But to -- in order to deal with these pressing problems, we've got to sit down and have a conversation that leads to a negotiation that begins to solve these problems for the future and for, frankly, our kids and our grandkids.”
Added Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the No. 3 leader in the House: “We're looking for a structure that puts us on a path to get a budget, to take care of the debt and move this economy in a stronger position and have all America win, a little common sense for the rest of the country.”
Sure, there were signs of the testiness that has grown as the days marched on, full of media accounts of children denied cancer treatments, veterans kept from memorials, national park-adjacent businesses going under, all because of the government shutdown that everyone in Washington said they didn’t want.
“The Democrats' unwillingness to have this conversation has actually resulted in a delay and… an ongoing government shutdown and it's hurting the American people,” said Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, chair of the House Republican Conference. “It's gone on too long. We hope that the president will choose negotiation over crisis, leadership over inaction and dialogue over silence. It's time to solve our problems.”
Change of tone and strategy aside, testy questions remain unresolved: What happens if no one budges? Will a temporary reprieve just change an ides-of-October mess into a Thanksgiving turkey? Boehner allowed that, while everything would be on the table, “you could end up back in the same place” if negotiations prove fruitless.
Mr. Speaker, a questioner asked, will you agree to reopen the government if the president doesn’t cave?
“If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas,” he replied, exiting to laughter.
And if ifs were skiffs, we’d be sailing.