In the latest escalation in the Obama administration’s war of words with congressional Republicans, White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer compared the GOP to terrorists in an interview on CNN Thursday. ”We are for cutting spending. We are for reforming out tax codes, reforming out entitlements,” Pfeiffer told Jake Tapper. “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest. We’re not going to do that.”
President Barack Obama and aides have repeatedly called out Republicans for attempt to “extort” and “blackmail” the administration into cutting funding for the Affordable Care Act as part of a deal to keep the government funded into October. But the metaphors have rarely broached the boundaries of terrorism.
The negotiating technique that Pfeiffer was describing, however, is by no means novel. Hostage taking—by promising harm if you do not get your way—has long been a standard way of doing business in Washington. At the beginning of the year, President Obama said he would allow taxes on all Americans to go up when previous tax cuts expired if Republicans did not permit some increase in taxes on the wealthy. Republicans eventually agreed to a tax increases, since they did not want to be blamed for a broad tax increase. This summer, Senate Majority Harry Reid threatened to undo generations of Senate precedent by unilaterally rewriting the rules if President Obama’s nominees were not confirmed. Senate Republicans ultimately agreed to confirm most of the nominees, since they wanted to preserve the rules under which the Senate operates.
In the current standoff, Republicans have threatened to let the government shutdown and to not authorize a debt ceiling increase if they do not get their way on other issues. President Obama has said he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling, a shift from his position in 2011, when Republicans were able to extract significant budget cuts out of Democrats by threatening the nation with default and economic damage.
UPDATE 6:30 PM: Administration officials strenuously pushed back on the notion that Obama has previously engaged in similar tactics to those they accuse Republicans of employing, saying that the president’s position on last winter’s fiscal cliff talks was a standard negotiating stance and not an act of hostage taking since Congress ultimately has the authority to write taxing legislation.
The expiration of the tax cuts for all incomes was written into law by Republicans. Obama issued a veto threat on any measure that included an extension of the tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans — a pledge that included legislation extending the tax cuts for all income levels.
On Twitter, Pfeiffer pointed to Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold’s comments to the Huffington Post Thursday acknowledging that Republicans were risking blowing up the economy by using the debt limit to exact concessions from Democrats.