House Speaker John Boehner (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
(Brendan Smialowskia/Getty Images)

Legislators, by their very nature, are detail guys and gals. They get caught up in the nitty gritty, both in language and in tactics. The day was spent in the following ways: The president invited both sides to the White House for a 5:30 meeting. The Republicans poked back, “So finally a negotiation!” The White House replied, “It’s just a meeting.” The Republicans passed small continuing resolutions to keep parts of the government operating and spent the day dwelling on veterans being kept away from memorials and monuments. These squabbles played out endlessly in the media — on TV, Twitter and in print.

The forest-for-the-tree problem is enormous here. The House never wanted this to be about the continuing resolution. It wants to talk about Obamacare and the debt. The president says he didn’t want a shutdown, but Sen. Harry Reid’s offer to get a clean continuing resolution and then talk is one designed to prolong the gridlock, not resolve it.

This can go one of two ways. Either, as I suggested earlier and some moderate Dems seem inclined to do, there is a small trade (e.g. continuing resolution for something on the medical-device tax) and then they move to the debt ceiling OR you put the continuing resolution to the side and move right on to the debt ceiling, just as the House intended. This is what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday in defense of the latter approach:

Our goal and motivation all along has been to get to a budget agreement. So all of the things we have done have been to increase the likelihood that we actually get a budget agreement that pays down our debt, that has pro‑growth economic policies to create jobs, to make sure that we can deal with the sequester.

We have a debt limit coming. That debt limit is coming in about two weeks.  Most budget agreements in the past have always involved debt limit increases.  We think that is the forcing mechanism, just like the Budget Control Act that President Obama signed before, or like Bowles‑Simpson, or like Gramm‑Rudman, or like the 1997 or 1990 budget agreement.  All those budget agreements came together because of debt limits.  That is what we think will be the forcing action to bring the two parties together.  Our goal and motivation here is to get a budget agreement, and we think this is a way to do that.

We want our colleagues to come here and work with us.  We want to sit down and get this done.  We don’t want to close the government down.  We want it to be open.  But we want fairness.  We want fairness for all Americans.  We don’t want to treat people differently.  We want a budget agreement that gets the debt under control.  We want to grow the economy.  And that is what we are here to do.

If they can’t solve the continuing resolution with a small trade in the next day or so, forget it. Move on. Republicans don’t want to talk about the continuing resolution anyway; they want to talk about how Obamacare isn’t working and about our long-term debt.

So advice to both sides of the aisle today: Get out of the weeds, fast. Do a quick deal on the continuing resolution or put a pin in it and get on with the big problem, the debt ceiling. And in the meantime, please stop wasting everyone’s time with the meeting gamesmanship. It suggests no one up there knows what the heck he is doing.