Everyone I'm talking to is shaking their head, not sure whether to laugh or cry at the bizarre things happening on the main stage here in D.C. Although with Boehner, I'm pretty sure the right response is the laughter thing. Boehner is easily, by a mile, the most ineffectual Speaker in my lifetime. I mean, like, wow. I'm rarely at a loss for words, and I can't even think about how one could adequately describe his haplessness. He is like the Keystone Cops, the Three Stooges and Inspector Clouseau all rolled into one. Even before the nuclear meltdown of last night, his and the Republicans in general had poll numbers circling the drain in the toilet. He has no cards to play (except maybe jokers), no arrows in the quiver, no tools in the toolbox. It's pretty hard to negotiate with a guy who can't deliver anything.
And this is the bumbling, ineffectual man to whom the President, in the words of his own proud press release, has already given in to Boehner "halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending." This is where the high tragedy and crying comes in. The President won the election by uniting his progressive base and working class and older swing voters with a message that trumpeted that he would fight unceasingly for the middle class. He won every swing state but one. Democrats picked up seats in the House (in spite of a very tough redistricting year) and the Senate (in spite of having to defend more than twice as many seats). Obama's approval rating is rising, far more voters say they would blame the Republicans rather than the Democrats for a standoff, and the polling shows that on every major issue in the budget showdown the voters are strongly with Obama.
Obama is playing with most of the chips, with almost all of the leverage. He is far, far stronger than President Clinton was going into the government shutdown showdown of 1995, when we eviscerated a much politically stronger Gingrich and won every single thing we cared about in that fight. Why exactly has the President already given away more than half of the game?
You know what, scratch that: I don't really care why. All I care is that now that Boehner has rejected the president's "more than halfway" offer, and shown dramatically that he can't deliver the votes anyway, that the offer be withdrawn and we wait for the Republicans to cave, just like we did in 1995. As Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO, who have been impressively strong and tough against the President's offer to Boehner, said:
He needs to recognize what everyone else recognizes, which is that he made an overly generous offer to Boehner, and Boehner threw it back at him. The appropriate response is to tell Boehner the offer is no longer valid. We want the president to come forward with an offer that reflects the reason why he won. We want the president to fight for two things: One is an end to the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent, and the other is to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Now that Boehner has tearfully sent the House home for the holidays, everyone should take a few days off, get some sleep, and go back to the drawing board. The simple fact is that in spite of the media hype, what happens on Jan. 1 is not a cliff we fall over, at worst it is a slope that gradually kicks in. The markets might get nervous for a few days, then they will get distracted by the latest rumor or profit report and all will be fine. There is plenty of time to do a deal, a deal that would be far, far better than taking money away from the folks living on Social Security.
In this season where so many of us are lucky enough to return home to our families and our traditions, I would urge President Obama to return home to the faith and values that I know he comes from. Those laid off steelworkers he was working to help in the '80s are going to get hurt by this Social Security cut you've proposed, Mr. President. That middle class you have vowed repeatedly to fight for is going to be hollowed some more, some of them sliding into poverty, if these cuts go through. Come home to your party's legacy, traditions, and to your own faith. Your faith's scripture says this:
Woe to those who enact unjust decrees,
Who compose oppressive legislation
To deny justice to the weak
And to cheat the humblest of my people of fair judgment,
To make widows their prey
And to rob the orphan.
Mr. President, you have many times quoted my most beloved verses in the Bible, where Jesus talks about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, and said that anyone who helped "the least of these" was helping him. I know you believe these words, and I appreciate the things you have done to fight for these same people I care about. But don't let your desire to cut a deal, your desire to get this over with, allow you to cut a bad deal you don't have to cut with as politically weak a man as Boehner. Being reasonable does not mean hurting the vulnerable and the middle class a little bit less, "going more than halfway" to the people who want to devastate them. Being reasonable is seizing the political victory that has been handed to you, and coming home where you belong. Your family will be waiting for you.