You can tell a lot by what politicians want to talk about.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio originally wanted to tie talks about fiscal reform to the default. He knew that a shutdown would direct the debate away from the roll out of the Obamacare exchanges and away from the fiscal demands the Republicans were making.
Once the shutdown occurred, President Obama, sure enough, didn’t want to talk about Obamacare problems, and he didn’t want to talk to the Republicans or about the long-term debt problems. Now that the shutdown has predictably turned into a test of wills and consumed a great amount of the media coverage, Republicans are practically begging the president to get back to talking about fiscal issues. Naturally, the president wants to talk about default (even by spooking the markets) and the shutdown.
The Republicans persist for both political and policy reasons. As a political matter, the juncture of fiscal issues and the debt-ceiling increase was where Republican leadership always wanted to stage the fight. The shutdown was a distraction and a loser and, contrary to the chirping of all-too-eager right-wing pundits, is going to get worse for Republicans as it goes on. (As in a strike, the longer people go without a paycheck and the longer services are unavailable, the more hardship there is and the more pressure there is to resolve the dispute.) And they rightly see that the president’s “no negotiations” position is a dead-bang loser.
As a policy matter, the long-term debt is what has concerned conservatives, at least responsible ones, all along.
So we see House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia make the case in The Post that:
… the American people reelected a divided government. They expect us to work together just as just as it was done in 2011, 1996, 1995 and years before — and they will not accept one party simply refusing to negotiate. Mr. President, let’s sit down and talk. Let’s reach consensus and end the “my way or the highway” attitude once and for all.
Likewise, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argues on the pages of the Wall Street Journal:
The president is giving Congress the silent treatment. He’s refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That’s a shame — because this doesn’t have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough. We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.
And yesterday, as we first reported here, the House pushed through a bill to name a bipartisan negotiating committee to work on the fiscal issues in conjunction with the debt ceiling.
Would all of this have been much easier absent a shutdown? Certainly — which is why the House leadership never wanted a shutdown. Can the House “win” the shutdown? No — which is why Republicans are moving on to the debt-ceiling negotiations. Will the president be able to sustain the position that Republicans are like enemies on the battlefield, to be vanquished, before he’ll deign to speak to Republicans? It seems unlikely — which is why Republicans sense an opening and want now to talk about talking to the president.