On Thursday, Bloomberg released a poll showing that 61 percent of Americans believe it's appropriate to require spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Earlier this week, a Gallup poll showed that an increasing number of Americans say it's more important for government leaders to compromise (53 percent say they should) than to stick to their principles (25 percent).
The upshot? Americans think the current showdown in Washington should be a negotiation—the back-and-forth of concessions and compromises by which most deals typically get done.
The problem? Neither the Republicans or the White House see it as such.
The president's position is that the full faith and credit of the United States is not something that's open to debate, so there should be no negotiation. Doing so, he contends, would establish a dangerous precedent and place more power into the hands of a dysfunctional Congress. He's repeated this position so many times, and with such firmness, that he's left himself no way to back down without destroying his credibility in the future. It seems increasingly unlikely he'll engage.
On the other side, meanwhile, House Republicans are proposing to exchange an increase in the debt ceiling for a delay on Obamacare, as well as for a tax reform time table, cuts in federal pensions and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. It's a laundry list so comprehensive, so extreme, that it seems almost a gimmick intended to get a rejection from Democrats. As President John F. Kennedy once said, "we cannot negotiate with those who say 'what's mine is mine, and what's yours is negotiable.'" That's not negotiation. That's extortion.
It's tempting to think that the current showdown will end the way budget debates of the past, or the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, have. A last-minute, emergency solution will bring us back from the brink of disaster with a solution that everyone swallows even if it doesn't taste very good. Someone will emerge to break the impasse. The looming economic catastrophe of a default will finally strike enough fear in the hearts of our supposed leaders that they will come to their senses and put aside political fighting for the good of the country.
Maybe that will happen again, but I'm not so sure. This time around, the two sides not only aren't playing by the traditional rules, they're not even playing the same game.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.