Democrats, the party of ‘no’

There seems to be something about elected Democrats, perhaps something genetic and deep-seated, that gives them an aversion to negotiating. They much prefer to walk away and say no.

In Washington, this refusal to negotiate has led to a government shutdown.

The talking heads have been in love with the idea that Republicans are to blame and have formed a suicide pact of some kind. It was passed into law by Congress, they say. It was upheld by the Supreme Court, they say. It was campaigned on by the president in his re-election, they say. It is law, and Republicans need to deal with that, they say.

Yet these same people seem to miss that the House of Representatives, a duly elected legislative chamber, is just as legitimate as the president or the United States Senate, and their opinion matters.

I can’t lie to you and say I’m in love with what is happening in Washington, or tell you that I support the confrontation driven by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and supported by House Republicans. I don’t.

But regardless of my aversion to that strategy, I certainly understand the impulse, and Democrats need to get used to the idea that the government is not controlled uniformly by Democrats.

If it were, and the Republicans found some way to force a shutdown, it would be entirely their fault.  But with divided government, and a House majority that was elected with a mandate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act pitted against a Senate majority that was elected to do the opposite, compromise must reign supreme.

Yes, Obamacare is law, but half of Congress is controlled by a legitimately elected group of people opposed to that law and determined to change it. A deal between the two must be struck.

Even Cruz has said that the idea of defunding Obamacare is unlikely, or impossible. Standing on firm ground, however, and registering opposition to the law as a way to try to force Democrats to confront reality about the law and compromise is hardly a radical idea.

A sensible agreement would be a delay in implementation, temporary waivers, or something that would acknowledge that the government just isn’t ready for this and the entire program is a mess, but wouldn’t nullify the law. Everybody wins, and it would have the benefit of being good policy.

Yet no negotiations are really taking place. The president and his allies in the Senate refuse to even cede the ground that they should demean themselves by acknowledging the House of Representatives exists and has an opinion.

To them, the legislative branch is only the United States Senate and no activity from the House is valid. No wonder they haven’t passed a budget in Congress for half a decade.

And so, angry Democrats like Rep. Chellie Pingree accuse Republicans of “taking hostages”, and pseudo-Democrats like Sen. Angus King accuse Republicans of being “guilty of murder,” all the while doing nothing to acknowledge the realities of government or attempting to break the impasse.

It is the president and his party who are recklessly standing firm on a deeply ideological, partisan issue and are refusing to negotiate, thus necessitating a shutdown and prolonging it.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have a legitimate point. They are backed by legitimate elections that gave them legitimate control of one house of Congress, and they are pressing that legitimate point in a legitimate, legislative way.

They also know leverage is not on their side, and they acknowledged from the outset the need to compromise and, as such, showed up to negotiate. They were alone.

During the shutdown of 1995, President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were in constant communication, and both acknowledged the necessity of negotiation. In the end, both sides gave ground, a compromise was forged, and the government reopened.

That cannot happen so long as the Democrats keep saying no. The president’s lack of leadership, and his party’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the lower chamber of Congress and the necessity to work out a deal with it is the real reason the government is shut down.

If you want to punish anyone at the ballot box for what is happening, you have your culprit right there.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.