Obama must stand his ground on the government shutdown

When Barack Obama was seeking the presidency in 2008, he pledged to change the way Washington works. Well, it has changed all right, but he has not been the architect.

As emphatically confirmed in this week's government shutdown, that deed has been accomplished by the House Republicans, more specifically by their tea party element and by pliable House Speaker John Boehner, who so conspicuously has declined to push back against it.

There has been much transparently disingenuous GOP talk about how President Obama and the Senate Democrats refused to negotiate on changes or refunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. But the identity of the villains in the piece is abundantly clear.

They are the diehard foes of what once was just a bill but now is the law of the land. It was legitimately enacted through the votes of Congress, declared constitutional by the Supreme Court and is being enforced by the re-elected president. Though the diehards failed to achieve Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's stated goal of making Mr. Obama "a one-tern president," they remain hell-bent on continuing to try to undo what has been legally and democratically done.

Bolstered only by public opinion polls of varying reliability, they insist that Mr. Obama's health care law is wildly unpopular, although only this week has its core element begun, enrolling the millions of American uninsured. The closest thing to a credible referendum on the matter came last November, when the American people by a comfortable margin of the popular and Electoral College vote gave Mr. Obama a second term.

This band of would-be retroactive election hijackers argues that, having failed either to repeal or defund the law, they must end-run the long-established process for killing or modifying it in Congress itself.

Laughably, at the 11th hour the hapless Mr. Boehner sought to draw the Senate Democrats into a face-saving House-Senate conference to negotiate Obamacare's death or at least changes in it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wasted no time rejecting this obvious Republican attempt to shake off public blame for the subsequent shutdown.

Mr. Obama for once was bell-clear in putting the whole fiasco in focus. Hours before the shutdown, he reminded the anti-Obamacare obstructionists that it was their job to see to it the government met its financial responsibilities and not use the threat of refusing to do so as blackmail to get what they couldn't get by normal, legislative means.

"So Congress needs to keep our government open, needs to pay our bills on time, and never, ever threaten the full faith and credit of the United States of America," he said. Mistakenly, it turned out, he expressed a "hope and expectation" that Congress in the 11th hour and particularly the House would "choose to do the right thing."

It's doubtful, though, that President Obama really thought these diehards in the end would throw in the towel. It was clear that Mr. Boehner was captive rather than leader of the tea party faction of his House Republican flock, driven by its ideology and dislike of the president and not about to cave in.

Now the country will have to endure more of the tiresome debate over who is at fault for this incredible dereliction of congressional responsibility to assure the daily functioning of the people's government. The implementation of Obamacare will go on despite all the heat and little light spread over what is this current national calamity.

Reality insisted that Mr. Obama finally stand his ground against this single-minded partisan effort to wreck what's left of his presidency. Reality also should exact a severe price in public credibility from this rudderless Republican Party. It can't seem to find its way to play a legitimate role in governing as a majority in only one house in one branch of the federal establishment.

Unwittingly, if the voters have been paying attention, the House Republicans have given the Democrats more hope than they had reason to expect up to now, to pose a credible challenge for control of the House in next year's congressional elections. Such an effort may well determine Mr. Obama's political fate as his presidency winds down thereafter.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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