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Peggy Noonan: To Lead Is to Negotiate

Posted by on Oct. 5, 2013 at 10:37 PM
  • 25 Replies


Acrimony, insults, the government shut down. Time to talk to a wise man, someone from the days when government worked. I turned to the famous Mr. Baker—James A. Baker III, U.S secretary of state (1989-92), secretary of the Treasury (1985-88) and White House chief of staff under Ronald Reagan (1981-85) and George H.W. Bush (1992-93). He spoke, by phone, from his Houston office at the law firm Baker Botts.

Looking at Washington, "I'm seeing, frankly, a sad situation." A brief shutdown won't be terrible—there had already been 17, he notes, since 1976, eight when he was at the White House or Treasury. But the longer this one lasts the more dangerous it will become.

The political problem: The president is failing to lead. His refusal to negotiate with Republicans over spending and the debt limit is "an obstinate position, it's not a leadership position." The Republicans made a mistake early on with a "maximalist" position on ObamaCare—they could not realistically achieve their aim of defunding when the Democrats hold the White House and Senate. But the president's position is a "pretty damn maximalist position itself, and people will say that."

Presidents, he notes, always negotiate in order to get an increase in the debt limit—it's their job. "It's a failure of leadership to say, 'I'm just gonna sit here while the government remains closed,' or, with respect to the debt limit, 'I'll sit here and not negotiate and the catastrophic consequences I warned you of will just have to happen.' . . . He has the burden of moving forward. He's the leader of the country. He has to get the debt limit raised to avoid default."

Yet the GOP too bears responsibility for the impasse. "I don't think it was a very wise strategy for we Republicans to say we would not fund the government unless we defunded ObamaCare. I don't think that's a smart political strategy, and I think we'll pay a price for it. . . . If you're gonna make your stand, make your stand on something you can accomplish." When he worked for Reagan, he'd come back from a negotiation saying, "I think we can get this," and it was never all the president wanted. "Reagan would say, 'I'd rather get 80% of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.'"

image

Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

President Ronald Reagan and Chief of Staff James Baker in 1981, strategizing in the Oval Office about getting a tax plan passed.

Mr. Baker says two GOP-backed changes to ObamaCare hold promise. "House Republicans are not wrong when they say we ought to eliminate the special privileges that members of Congress and their staffs have. . . . That would be tremendously popular in the country." The public also would support, and Democrats would likely back, eliminating the ObamaCare tax on medical devices.

He returns to the leadership problem: "When a president doesn't control both sides of Congress he has to deal with the other party. Ronald Reagan did it almost every day with Tip O'Neill." Nonnegotiation is bad politics. "Suppose we get past this budget debate and Oct. 17 get into a fight on the debt limit. I'm not certain the American people would not penalize the administration."

What should President Obama do? Own it. Lead. "Leading would be to call [Speaker John] Boehner in: 'All right, this is a sorry situation for our country. Come on here and let's talk about resolving it.'" In this negotiation they should first explore an agreement on getting rid of the special provisions for Congress. Second, they could move to come to agreement on eliminating the medical device tax.

"Resolve this thing by getting into a room and making the government work. The leader of our government should be willing to get into a room and sit down with the opposition."

Why doesn't Mr. Obama do this? Baker spoke of "obstinacy" and political calculation. "This White House thinks it's got a bird's nest on the ground because we Republicans overreached when we said defund ObamaCare." The president thinks this works for him. "He could turn out to be right, and he could turn out to be wrong." Democrats "think this is a great political strategy. I'm not sure it is if it continues too long, particularly if it segues into the debt limit and he doesn't negotiate." The White House meeting of the president and congressional leaders Wednesday night does not qualify as a negotiation. "They didn't do anything but parrot their respective positions."

Ronald Reagan faced a fiercely Democratic house throughout both terms of his presidency. "Those days were bitter, but we got into a room and we thrashed it out. The 'Gang of Five,' the 'Gang of 17'—we worked it out, each side gave a little, and we got the government working. Reagan—as you know, he had the reputation of being a conservative ideologue. But he wasn't, he was pragmatic." He worked with the other side and "won them over." How? "Horse trading, compromise and negotiation made the government work." Bill Clinton too "was willing to negotiate when he had a body controlled by the opposite party."

When people speak of Reagan and O'Neill, I said, it always comes across as covered over by nostalgia, as if the two were magical. "Hell no, I'm talking about practicality. Reagan, believe it or not—one reason he was so successful was he was pragmatic. He did what he needed to do to get things done."

Could Reagan have controlled today's GOP? "I think yes, he could have. You bet. Yeah, he would have." How? Baker's answer seemed to be: Through a personal application of peace through strength. "Somebody asked me about the tea party, 'Ya think Reagan would have [been at odds with] them or been in sync with them?' I think, Reagan would have probably led the charge! But remember how it was when he first came in. He understood that we judge our presidents . .  on the basis of what elements of their programs they get accomplished legislatively, how they make the government run, how they lead."

A sound strategy for the Republicans going forward would involve a shift in public perception. People will see the issue one way when they believe House Republicans are unwilling to pass a budget because of ObamaCare. When people see the issue as the president refusing to negotiate with House Republicans on the issue of the debt limit, things will change. The president's refusal to negotiate "could change the political calculus, the more so the longer it goes. . . . My political antennae tell me when the debate becomes the failure of our leader to negotiate . . . the mood of the country could flip." That would look like a true "abdication of leadership."

Does he worry about how all this is making America look in the world? "Yeah, sure, of course. It makes us look like we don't have our act together. And I guess you could say we don't."

He notes that Mr. Obama used to speak of how he admired Reagan. But Reagan tackled big problems—fundamental tax reform, fixing Social Security. "Why doesn't he do what Reagan did?"

by on Oct. 5, 2013 at 10:37 PM
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Replies (1-10):
SallyMJ
by Ruby Member on Oct. 5, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Makes sense to me.

Add Rand Paul's idea of a 1-2 week CR to allow time to negotiate the real agreement for the year.

MomTiara19
by Silver Member on Oct. 7, 2013 at 6:18 AM

Obamacare is already law and in effect.President Obama would have to dismantle all he has already started and take health care away from millions.

It is impossible to stop...there is no negotiation here?That is why this whole shutdown makes no sense?

The president can work with republicans to help make Obamacare better and join the democrats.There is no negotiation on delaying or destroying the affordable healh care act.

The president has to stand his ground on this one.He was elected and he is our president.


pvtjokerus
by Gold Member on Oct. 7, 2013 at 8:19 AM
5 moms liked this

 First of all, Obama was elected by few and not the greater majority......meaning he did not have a backing of 75% of the voters......Second, when Obama started changing the rules of Obamacare for his select group of voters, he then negated what the Supreme Court voted on.....meaning he changed the law for some and for others he did not.  This is not correct nor is it right.  So yes, Obamacare could be de-funded for another year.  And we all know that Obama ain't working with the Repubs for nothing.  He has proven this over and over and to think that he is or will, is being intellectually dishonest......

 

Quoting MomTiara19:

Obamacare is already law and in effect.President Obama would have to dismantle all he has already started and take health care away from millions.

It is impossible to stop...there is no negotiation here?That is why this whole shutdown makes no sense?

The president can work with republicans to help make Obamacare better and join the democrats.There is no negotiation on delaying or destroying the affordable healh care act.

The president has to stand his ground on this one.He was elected and he is our president.

 

 

 

SallyMJ
by Ruby Member on Oct. 7, 2013 at 1:44 PM
1 mom liked this

Obamacare is law- but is not yet funded, and goes into effect 1/1/14. That's why Congress is voting now. There are two steps.

There have been many times that a law is passed and is not partially or fully funded. Congress is who is Constitutionally responsible for originating spending bills. If funding is not brought up by Congress in a bille, it is not voted on.

James Madison wrote 235 years ago:

"The power over the purse may be the most complete and effective weapon...[to] arm the representatives of the people."

~ James Madison, Federalist 58

This was written when the drafters of the Constitution were publishing The Federalist essays in major newspapers in 1787 and 1788, educating people about the Constitution, so the states queasy about it at that time would better understand it, and ratify it.

Members of Congress were elected, and they are our Congressional representatives. There are 3 branches of government, not just one. Obama does not have Constitutional authority to write spending bills. Congress does. And they are negotiated with the Senate, and signed or vetoed by the President.

In order to lead, Obama - like all 43 Presidents before him - must work with both Congress and the Senate.

Congress has expressed for weeks their willingness to negotiate. They know they will not get their opening proposal. Duh - No one does.That's why it's called an opening proposal. But as you know, there are two other proposals that merely clean up Obamacare. What's wrong with making Obama equally fair among Americans - and thus being consistent with the 14th Amendment. SCOTUS reviewed the law AFTER Roberts unilaterally rewrote it - twice - and BEFORE O unilaterally and unconstitutionally put in delays and exemptions for Big Corporations, and subsidies for government workers. It's not fair under the law. Don't you get that?

The president has to follow the Constitution, and neotiate with the Legislative branch, instead of trying to frighten the stock market and financial system.

There is no ground to stand when you are working against the Constitution, in our Constitutional republic.

Of course every hungry person is one too many. We just sometimes disagree on how to resolve that.

Quoting MomTiara19:

Obamacare is already law and in effect.President Obama would have to dismantle all he has already started and take health care away from millions.

It is impossible to stop...there is no negotiation here?That is why this whole shutdown makes no sense?

The president can work with republicans to help make Obamacare better and join the democrats.There is no negotiation on delaying or destroying the affordable healh care act.

The president has to stand his ground on this one.He was elected and he is our president.



sarahjz
by Bronze Member on Oct. 7, 2013 at 1:48 PM

Interesting.  TFS.

Ednarooni160
by Eds on Oct. 8, 2013 at 5:24 AM
1 mom liked this



Quoting SallyMJ:

Obamacare is law- but is not yet funded, and goes into effect 1/1/14. That's why Congress is voting now. There are two steps.

There have been many times that a law is passed and is not partially or fully funded. Congress is who is Constitutionally responsible for originating spending bills. If funding is not brought up by Congress in a bille, it is not voted on.

James Madison wrote 235 years ago:

"The power over the purse may be the most complete and effective weapon...[to] arm the representatives of the people."

~ James Madison, Federalist 58

This was written when the drafters of the Constitution were publishing The Federalist essays in major newspapers in 1787 and 1788, educating people about the Constitution, so the states queasy about it at that time would better understand it, and ratify it.

Members of Congress were elected, and they are our Congressional representatives. There are 3 branches of government, not just one. Obama does not have Constitutional authority to write spending bills. Congress does. And they are negotiated with the Senate, and signed or vetoed by the President.

In order to lead, Obama - like all 43 Presidents before him - must work with both Congress and the Senate.

Congress has expressed for weeks their willingness to negotiate. They know they will not get their opening proposal. Duh - No one does.That's why it's called an opening proposal. But as you know, there are two other proposals that merely clean up Obamacare. What's wrong with making Obama equally fair among Americans - and thus being consistent with the 14th Amendment. SCOTUS reviewed the law AFTER Roberts unilaterally rewrote it - twice - and BEFORE O unilaterally and unconstitutionally put in delays and exemptions for Big Corporations, and subsidies for government workers. It's not fair under the law. Don't you get that?

The president has to follow the Constitution, and neotiate with the Legislative branch, instead of trying to frighten the stock market and financial system.

There is no ground to stand when you are working against the Constitution, in our Constitutional republic.

Of course every hungry person is one too many. We just sometimes disagree on how to resolve that.


143myboys9496
by Gold Member on Oct. 8, 2013 at 6:01 AM
5 moms liked this

 " "Reagan would say, 'I'd rather get 80% of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.'"

THAT Mr.Obama, is called NEGOTIATING. Maybe give it a try...it didn't kill Reagan, and it won't kill you.

It's also akin to "acting like an adult", and "doing your JOB"

Billiejeens
by on Oct. 8, 2013 at 7:50 AM

 

I don't think that you can comprehend this, but the boy himself has already taken actions to "stop" it 14 times.

All of those were outside his scope of authority - why you not mad den?

Quoting MomTiara19:

Obamacare is already law and in effect.President Obama would have to dismantle all he has already started and take health care away from millions.

It is impossible to stop...there is no negotiation here?That is why this whole shutdown makes no sense?

The president can work with republicans to help make Obamacare better and join the democrats.There is no negotiation on delaying or destroying the affordable healh care act.

The president has to stand his ground on this one.He was elected and he is our president.

 


 

Billiejeens
by on Oct. 8, 2013 at 7:52 AM
1 mom liked this

 

He has something Reagan didn't have - he has the cloak of blackability to shield him.

Quoting 143myboys9496:

 " "Reagan would say, 'I'd rather get 80% of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.'"

THAT Mr.Obama, is called NEGOTIATING. Maybe give it a try...it didn't kill Reagan, and it won't kill you.

It's also akin to "acting like an adult", and "doing your JOB"


 

Billiejeens
by on Oct. 8, 2013 at 7:58 AM
2 moms liked this

 

Huge moment right there - he TRIED to move the market down and the markets ignored him, he truly is down to the bots and the zombies.

JFK nearly put the hat business out of business when he became the first President to simply not wear hats.

AMAZING HOW small Obama has become.

Quoting SallyMJ:

Obamacare is law- but is not yet funded, and goes into effect 1/1/14. That's why Congress is voting now. There are two steps.

There have been many times that a law is passed and is not partially or fully funded. Congress is who is Constitutionally responsible for originating spending bills. If funding is not brought up by Congress in a bille, it is not voted on.

James Madison wrote 235 years ago:

"The power over the purse may be the most complete and effective weapon...[to] arm the representatives of the people."

~ James Madison, Federalist 58

This was written when the drafters of the Constitution were publishing The Federalist essays in major newspapers in 1787 and 1788, educating people about the Constitution, so the states queasy about it at that time would better understand it, and ratify it.

Members of Congress were elected, and they are our Congressional representatives. There are 3 branches of government, not just one. Obama does not have Constitutional authority to write spending bills. Congress does. And they are negotiated with the Senate, and signed or vetoed by the President.

In order to lead, Obama - like all 43 Presidents before him - must work with both Congress and the Senate.

Congress has expressed for weeks their willingness to negotiate. They know they will not get their opening proposal. Duh - No one does.That's why it's called an opening proposal. But as you know, there are two other proposals that merely clean up Obamacare. What's wrong with making Obama equally fair among Americans - and thus being consistent with the 14th Amendment. SCOTUS reviewed the law AFTER Roberts unilaterally rewrote it - twice - and BEFORE O unilaterally and unconstitutionally put in delays and exemptions for Big Corporations, and subsidies for government workers. It's not fair under the law. Don't you get that?

The president has to follow the Constitution, and neotiate with the Legislative branch, instead of trying to frighten the stock market and financial system.

There is no ground to stand when you are working against the Constitution, in our Constitutional republic.

Of course every hungry person is one too many. We just sometimes disagree on how to resolve that.

Quoting MomTiara19:

Obamacare is already law and in effect.President Obama would have to dismantle all he has already started and take health care away from millions.

It is impossible to stop...there is no negotiation here?That is why this whole shutdown makes no sense?

The president can work with republicans to help make Obamacare better and join the democrats.There is no negotiation on delaying or destroying the affordable healh care act.

The president has to stand his ground on this one.He was elected and he is our president.

 



 

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