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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

 
The GOP isn't just threatening the President. They're threatening the Presidency.

by David Atkins

It would be hard to fault Republicans for believing that President Obama and Congressional Democrats would cave in the face of a government shutdown and debt default crisis. After all, Republicans have dominated Democrats on previous fiscal showdowns, including on the sequester just a few short months after being resoundingly defeated in a major election.

So the President's sudden showing of spine has surprised Republicans and put them in an uncomfortable bind. Where did it come from?

The simplest explanation is that Republicans aren't just threatening the President's signature legislative accomplishment or important priorities like Social Security and Medicare. After all, President Obama has already shown a willingness to make concessions on all those fronts, whether it be delaying business mandates or seeking his white whale of a Grand Bargain on earned benefits.

No, the problem is that Republicans are threatening the office of the Presidency itself. That was the big strategic error. President Obama has already shown himself quite fond of the special powers of the President. he has always seemed more comfortable conducting secret Executive branch operations than handling the faux politesse, arm twisting and dinner party charms of legislative wrangling. He's so comfortable in the Executive domain that those on both sides who worry primarily about Executive overreach often see him as a villain equal to or worse than George W. Bush. The President is also a scholar of legal history and Constitutional jurisprudence, a man keenly aware of the precedent he sets for future Presidents.

The President knows what few in the press are pointing out: that it's not just that Republicans are taking the country and world economy hostage in order to prevent people from getting healthcare or in order to cut Social Security and Medicare. That's bad enough, obviously. But they're also threatening to overturn the very structure of the United States government, rendering the President an essentially superfluous rubber stamp to the will of Congress in general, and the House of Representatives in particular.

If the Republicans succeed in securing ransom for their hostages, it will destroy the veto power of the Presidency. From that moment onward, any dispute between the White House and the House of Representatives would be definitively resolved in favor of the latter whenever the next budgetary or debt ceiling cycle came due. It would be a radical reinterpretation of government far more extreme than the filibuster.

Even if the President were willing to throw every legislative priority overboard, he would not have his lasting legacy be the destruction of the power of the Presidency. That is why he is standing firm on his commitment to negotiate, but only when the threat of duress has been removed. To protect not just his Presidency but the office of the President itself, he has no choice left.


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