Boehner Holds Weaker Cards In High-Stakes Political Poker

Both the Speaker and the President are bluffing over the debt limit. But the President has a better hand.

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner arrives for work at the Capitol on Oct. 7, 2013, in Washington

President Barack Obama says he will not pay House Republicans a ransom in exchange for re-opening the government or raising the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner insists he doesn’t have the votes to do either without any White House concessions.

Both men are bluffing. And while Obama’s play is a risky one, Boehner’s bluff is worse: it just doesn’t look very credible.

In a Sunday interview with ABC News, Boehner said the U.S. faced the specter of its first ever federal default if Obama didn’t cave to GOP demands. “There are not the votes in the House,” Boehner declared, to pass a so-called “clean” bill to reopen the government. “The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit,” he added. “And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”

Boehner has won this type of high-stakes negotiation before. For three years, Boehner has occasionally used the Tea Party wing that normally makes his life miserable to his advantage. In the 2011 debt-limit fight, he was able to invoke his restive rank-and-file as leverage in the standoff. As long as he convinced Obama that there were enough people in his caucus who wouldn’t blink, he could wring concessions out of the White House.

(MORE: Foroohar: The Debt Ceiling Crisis Is Threatening Your Quality of Life)

But this is now a less credible threat. A few days before Boehner went on TV to talk tough about the threat of default, he was reportedly confiding to fellow Republicans that he would never allow it. Failure to hike the debt limit would unleash a chain of economic calamities, if not the first ever federal default. Boehner doesn’t want that to be his political epitaph.

To be sure, there are plenty of House Republicans who are willing, if not eager, to hold the line. But if the votes aren’t there for clean bills, that’s only because Boehner hasn’t allowed them to come forward. As Speaker, he and his leadership team control the floor. A clean bill to reopen the government, and a companion measure to lift the debt limit, would draw unanimous or near-unanimous support from the chamber’s 200 Democrats; all but five are on record supporting such a vote. Nearly two-dozen Republicans are also publicly on board. Some say the number is far higher. If Boehner let a clean funding bill hit the House floor, “it would probably get 300 votes,” New York Representative Peter King, a Republican who has been critical of the party’s shutdown strategy, told TIME last week. “Two thirds of Republicans privately want a clean [bill to fund the government].”

The White House is convinced that Boehner, a reasonable man, is not prepared to be the guy who tanks the U.S. economy by blocking a vote. Democrats suspect that as the Oct. 17 deadline draws closer, Boehner’s asking price will plummet. After all, that’s exactly what Republicans did in the run-up to the shutdown. As the clock ticked toward midnight on Sept. 30, a House GOP conference that began negotiations by threatening to gut Obamacare cycled through four proposed concessions, each lesser than the last.

(MORE: Boehner: No End to Government Shutdown Without Concessions)

Weak as it is, Boehner’s bluff makes sense in a way. The Speaker comes into this negotiation with three interlocking goals. He wants, in no particular order, to prevent economic calamity; to keep his job; and to be seen as having won the standoff, or at least extracting a sufficient ransom that the GOP can plausibly claim victory. By holding the line until the latest possible moment, he may be able accomplish all three. It is possible to envision a negotiated settlement that gives Democrats the clean hike they’re insisting on, or perhaps with a small concession such as the repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax, while also establishing a framework for a deficit-reduction package that Republicans can market as a win. The zero-sum showdown ends when both sides have something to spin.

Of course, Boehner isn’t the only one bluffing. Presiding over default would be an even uglier legacy for a president. It is an open question whether Obama could still refuse negotiations a week or more from now. But the White House’s gamble is what’s known in poker parlance a semi-bluff: one where you still have a chance to win if your opponent calls it. Polls indicate the public would hold Republicans responsible for the fallout. That would be the crudest of political victories. But the specter of a brand-busting outcome for the GOP is stark enough that Obama is staking his second term on forcing Boehner to fold.

The President used to play poker with Republicans, back in his days as a state legislator in Springfield. If he was any good, he knows the way to turn the tables on the guy who’s been bullying you is to shove in all your chips, even with the slimmest advantage.

MORE: Without Negotiating, Obama and Boehner Eye Big Deal

191 comments
mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

The Shutdown is Boosting Barack Obama's Poll Numbers And Republicans Don't Care

Yesterday, after he left the House GOP conference meeting on the party's next shutdown moves, California Rep. Tom McClintock kept insisting that the shutdown was weakening Barack Obama's position. I asked him what the basis for that was --- surely Obama wasn't soaring back to 2009 levels of popularity, but wasn't Congress hitting rock bottom pretty quickly?

"Actually," said McClintock, "the polling that I've seen is showing a rising body of opinion that rejects the no-compromise, no-negotiation stance of Harry Reid and Barack Obama."

He didn't mention which polling that was, and I didn't press, but if you read into the crosstabs of polls... actually, you still don't come up with a scenario in which the president's stock is falling faster than Republicans'. In the RealClearPolitics average, Barack Obama's approval has actually stabilized or edged up since the nadir of September, and the backlash to the Syria imbroglio. The Fox News poll has him bouncing from -14 to -4; the Gallup and Rasmussen trackers have him basically even; YouGov has him bouncing from -12 to even. Even the Reuters/Ipsos poll that puts Obama at -10 represents a move up from -16.

The average gives Obama a 45 percent approval rating, and that's even baking in the newsy AP/GFK poll that puts him at 37 percent. And the AP/GFK is 1) conducted online and 2) making the most news for giving Congress a 5 percent approval rating. The average gives Congress an 11 percent approval rating. Since the start of the shutdown, Congress is down from -57 to -74 in Gallup, from -58 to -68 in Fox, -58 to -77 in CNN, and stable at -66 in YouGov.

I'd expect conservatives to focus on the AP/GFK poll, as the news always gravitates to the polls with the most dramatic results. And on Twitter I've already seen conservatives asking the biased media (hello!) to imagine if George W. Bush posted these numbers. Well, okay: At this point in his second term, Bush's approval fell to 39 percent in Gallup, 7 points lower than Obama's current rating. Throughout the rest of that term, he never cracked 44 percent again.

But as McClintock's answer showed, Republicans are not going to put these numbers through rigorous tests. They believe that the public is moving towards blaming Obama, not them, for the shutdown.

jmac
jmac

This is all about the mid-term elections.   The GOP is bragging that when Newt shut down the government with Clinton, the GOP won the House in the mid-term.  They think this is a winning strategy.  

It's up to the American people to get to the polls in the mid-term elections.  Independents and moderates need to step to the plate.  The 1995 and 1996 shutdowns cost the country 2.1 billion at today's value.   This shut down has already cost at least 1.2 billion. The party that somehow convinced the press and the nation that it was a fiscally responsible party has pulled the wool over a lot of people who still come on this blog and cry about what they're grandkids will have to pay in the future.   They need to reconsider who they will vote for if they want fiscal responsibility - it's certainly not the party claiming not paying our debt obligation isn't a serious issue.  

drudown
drudown

The GOP's agenda for the last 13 years is rather simple: create a polarized, "partisan" climate so that the GOP can pursue economic, diplomatic and domestic programs that obviously benefit the Multi-National Corporations and 1% and invoke "ideological" or "partisan differences" as the justification.

All this began with the Reagan Administration "killing" the Fairness Act so that the Media could operate more as a "paid-for-expert-witness" advocating the GOP's positions (see, e.g., the WMD-scare tactics and fabricated connection between 9/11 and Saddam before unnecessary invasion under false pretenses) instead of a (no pun intended) "fair and balanced" fact-finding journalistic engine.

The People need to vote out the GOP so that the "lesser of two evils" (at least for now...) can actually pass a budget, regulate major markets and get our proverbial house in order.

The GOP is suggesting the US "default" on its obligations for no rational reason at all.

That's how easy it is to "buy" the GOP.

They will advocate and lobby for our own collective injury, consequences to the People be damned.

"Conduct in any official capacity is a mirror in which everyone displays his own true image." - Goethe

BruceWage
BruceWage

I think Obama's inability to be leader, and his inability to talk with the congressional leadership, and his absolute ignorance of the Constitution is, I think, breathtaking in an incumbent president
 

LiWright
LiWright

I may be wrong but didn't Bill Clinton threaten to use executive order when he was at the debt ceiling battle?  Cannot the President do the same?

BusterShaw
BusterShaw

Boehner fought to use the american taxpayer to fund AT&Ts overseas operations. He's already stolen billions from the tax-payers by fighting the US Call Center and Consumer Protection Act, and has really only made attempts to steal from the U.S. on behalf of international companies. 


Why would anyone now believe he cares about america's best interest??

How can the american ppl consider Boehner to be anything more than a treasonist??

billbear1961
billbear1961

Yes, the President should negotiate with extortionists who are threatening to blow up the economy if they don't get what they want. Because, of course, that's the way our democratic system works! Yes!

Never mind GOP policies LOST them the 2012 election. Even the House is in their control ONLY because of gerrymandering.

Never mind! Let's cancel the elections results, never have any more, and close down Congress, the White House, and the courts while we're at it.

Let's submit to this COUP, enact all the policies the electorate REJECTED, and submit to government by extortion, to a FASCIST Tea Party tribunal dictating national policy from this point forward.

Do you understand that giving in to ANY of their demands means the END of the LEGITIMATE democratic process in this country? DO YOU? They'll be back for more and more and more. This FARCE will NEVER end!

The President is fighting for DEMOCRACY--what's left of it in this nation ROTTING with corporate corruption.

Your efforts to undermine him and place him on the same moral plane as Boehner SICKEN ME.

chacalcdn
chacalcdn

He looks more SUNKIST then feared or credible.

Where is CANTOR hiding?

bmcdermott
bmcdermott

Seriously, Time?  You link below this article to easily disprovable Republican propaganda about Obamacare (Money Morning)?  This is what Time has come to?  This is journalism?

yy
yy

邪不能勝正!

jmac
jmac

Boehner will want a face-saving save but he hasn't realized he's drowning yet, even as the WSJ moans about Cruz getting the GOP blamed for the shut down.   I say don't give him a save at all.   Let him drown.  They're the ones that believe in water-boarding.    They're the ones who have decided to water-board themselves.  

It didn't have to be this way.  Boehner's on record saying Obama won the election and we weren't going to shut down the government over health care reform.   He should have had another stiff drink and held to his principles instead of getting roped by his extremists.  He deserves to drown for what he's done to the American people.  It's shameful.  

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

The GOP have been acting as political terrorists. No American president in modern times has had to put up the diabolical concerted GOP effort to block everything he or Democrats try to accomplish. Starting their cabal on day one that pressed to block an all-time record of 430+ bills, appointments, and required 60-vote super majorities and deliberately sabotaged the weak economy and jobs market, which they created, hoping to use it against the President in 2012 but failed. The GOP leadership met once again after the President was reelected to renew their cabal of obstructionism led by the GOP baggy spawn like freshman Cruz intent on making a name for himself rather than actually passing bipartisan legislation or compromising on anything. As a result even simple bills normally passed like the Transportation Bill and the Farm Bill have been blocked costing jobs and hurting the economy as they also did in 2011 when they also used the Debt Limit as extortion that rattled investors and dropped the DOW 2,500 costing them trillions in investments and adding $19 billion in additional debt interests when the US credit rating was down graded.

The GOP's gerrymandering is five to one over Democrats which they have been able to exploit after 2010 thanks to the GOP's activist SCOTUS' Citizens United ruling and unlimited, usually anonymous, campaign funding, gerrymandering, and voter suppression efforts. With secure GOP districts slimeballs like Cruz see no need to play nice or even go along with establishment GOP.

MarcusTaylor
MarcusTaylor

First of all ... the Democrats have already "negotiated" with the GOP.  This "Continuing Resolution" is the result of Democrats and Republicans reaching an agreement ... there was give and take.

Now they want MORE!  And just like blackmailers they will never be satisfied ... they will always "come back for more"! 

GOP. YOU LOST TWO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ... and you lost seats in the House and Senate.  The ACA (which s your plan created by the Heritage Foundation in 1993) is the LAW OF THE LAND!  What about that don't you get?

GOP and House Republicans ... YOU GET NOTHING, NADA, ZERO, ZILCH .... NOW WHAT?

onemind
onemind

This  article taken as a whole, evidences what we all know, this shutdown and debt ceiling stand off is all about which political party "wins", not "We the people".  Our welfare, which is the same one identified as "the Nation", is secondary to partisan concerns.  No matter which political party wins, we the people have  no champion in this fight, and it will conclude with no interest given to our needs. One party may win, both parties may get a face saving win, but we will surely lose for we have do not even have a place at the table.

allthingsinaname
allthingsinaname

"Boehner says he is willing to negotiate budget issues with President Barack Obama without any conditions. But Obama says it's Congress' responsibility to pay its bills and that negotiating on these issues would set a dangerous precedent. "


Pass a bill that both houses can sign off on then see what the President will do. So far they haven't achieved, or tried to pass a Bill both houses will accept.

Blaming Obama for the lack of votes is well,  ludicrous.

berryk
berryk

Childish and ridiculous.  De-fund the corporate military complex and the real welfare queens -the republicans- who continually pass corporate subsidies and decrease fees for grazing on public lands. The government spends much more money on corporate welfare subsidies than on social welfare programs. This display only illustrates who the republicans really care about. I am all for shutting down the government until we get public transportation, better education for our children, better roads, more parks and open space, and a single payer healthcare system. The demographics of this country are rapidly changing and its confounding that these bafoons think their antics represent the majority when they continually lose the popular vote.

BrianG
BrianG

So who is going to take the role that Putin did in the Syrian mess? I see this heading for a train wreck unless someone comes in and offers a mutually acceptable way out.

golf7buddy
golf7buddy

@mantisdragon91 - You are hanging your hat on AP poll. AP is the most biased poll taker and numbers cooked up to make it look good. Get a better Poll to support your position.

golf7buddy
golf7buddy

@drudown-

If you have to borrow money to pay interest on borrowed money then there is no longer any logical way to deny it: we are going to default. Period.

What is so difficult to understand the basic underlying principal. The expenses have to be controlled. The Taxes can not be raised ad infinitum as proposed by Obama. No leadership has been displayed by Obama in handling this situation except to be a child and declaring that he will not negotiate. Congress - Roll Over and do as I say. Give me what I want.

Constitutionally, Congress has been given the responsibility to approve a budget and allocate expenses as they decide as a group. So what is the problem? Obama does not like the approved budget. The normal thing to do then is to discuss with Congress what can be done to change/modify it. But if you take the attitude of NO NEGATIONS" then the problem remains unresolved.


ScottVan
ScottVan

@drudown Are you completely ignorant that the current national debt is $52,000 per citizen? Give the GOP credit for at least one issue.... increasing national debt without constraint jeopardizes the future of this country. Remember last years "Fiscal Cliff"? The GOP made it clear that a solution had to be reached and no more kicking the problem down the road. Well, this year we reach the Y in the road. We have to control the national debt.

jmac
jmac

@BruceWage Obama talked to congressional leadership.   That's how they got a Republican Heritage Foundation private sector health care plan.  Then they bragged about what they got in the plan as every single one of them voted against it.  They got what they wanted in the last budget deal.  

Nancy Pelosi didn't stop government to get rid of Bush's wars and his doubling of the National Debt.  Bush won a second term and got what he wanted.  Obama won a second term, took seats in the House and Senate.   What Republicans need to do is respect the votes of the people - or is that not in the Constitution?

littlelizard
littlelizard

@BruceWage Since he is a Constitutional lawyer my guess would be that he knows a good bit more than you do, or ever will. Since you are so sure he is ignorant of the Constitution why don't you post youe credentials to prove you know more about it than he does.

billbear1961
billbear1961

@jmac 

I agree. No face-saving for this coward. "Give us what we want, or we destroy the economy" makes it crystal clear they don't give a DAMN about this country. This is a power grab, plain and simple, a COUP against legitimate democratic process in the U.S.

Frankly, for their attempt to subvert our democratic system AND place the national security at risk to do it, I think the ringleaders of this coup should be arrested.

No? Well, then, the next best thing is to wipe them off the political map.

No face-saving for terrorists!

Tanker
Tanker

Obama has to save Boehner.

If Boehner falls and the Tea Party Looneys vote as a block, the next Speaker could be far Right.  Imagine Cruz as speaker because all the Moderates are afraid of being attacked from the Right and so won't oppose him.

That would mean certain disaster, giving the Tea Party control of Congress...

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@MarcusTaylor Actually, the GOP will get something out of all this mess.  They will get the blame, which they so richly deserve. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

@allthingsinaname 

And I agree - the conversation should be between the House and the Senate in a budget conference. 

barneydidit
barneydidit

@berryk But according to the Republican Sage- Ronald Reagan, if you make operating a business in this country unencumbered by taxes...or better yet, pay someone to run a business in this country, the economy will BOOM. Of course that argument only works if you discount the other side of the balance sheet- revenue collection, but we don't want to confuse anybody so we'll just consider that information to be "need to know" only. 

drudown
drudown

@ScottVan @drudown 

Is that so?

Let me get this straight. The GOP's entire lock-step domestic agenda is predicated on "no new taxes, ever" (i.e., incoming GOP members of Congress literally have to sign an oath of allegiance to a LOBBYIST, Grover Norquist, that refuses to even disclose which persons, corporations or foreign governments fund his cause)...and you want me to "give the GOP credit" for creating the very fiscal shortfall you cite? The Bush tax cuts accounted for roughly a 1/3 of the annual fiscal shortfall. What is prudent about that? How can you credibly contend the GOP cares about "controlling" the debt that their own policy created? 

As for "austerity"...kids in Spain are starving to death and people are rioting in Greece. You want to bring that here to America? What a sick joke.

Finally, the House has engaged in Anticipatory Repudiation of its plenary duty to RAISE revenue. Spare me your partisan excuses. The "default" is unlawfully caused by the House as a matter of law, i.e., it is their PLENARY duty pursuant to Article I, Section 8.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ScottVan @drudown Remind us again if the GOP is concerned about debt. Why they made sure to give Billions in giveaways to AgriBusiness before they took the government hostage?

golf7buddy
golf7buddy

@jmac @BruceWage -NO - it is not in the Constitution.  And you failed to mention that Obama has tripled the national debt. Congress has the authority and responsibility to approve a budget and allocate funds. Obama did not like the approved budget. He should then have discussed it with Congress to change/modify the numbers. Instead, he is playing a child - No Negotiations. Hardly a way to settle the problem. No leadership.

golf7buddy
golf7buddy

@littlelizard @BruceWage - Just because he has the credentials - which is suspect because not one detail of his college education has been made public. You can have the credentials and still be wrong. He is not infallible.

golf7buddy
golf7buddy

@billbear1961 @jmac - Those are the Exact words of the POTUS - Just pass a resolution giving me what I want. And there will be no negotiations. 

Well how do you resolve a disagreement if there are no meetings and a little bit of give and take.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@Tanker Cruz is a US Senator so it is unlikely he would become Speaker of the House.

Boehner has proven himself to be a liar and a coward who can easily be rolled by a small bunch of right-wing lunatics in the House and their equally insane supporters. What possible concession could allow him to save face at this point. The only thing that could do that would be for him to fall on his sword, stand up to the Teatards, and do the right thing for the country (bring a clean CR up for vote), even (especially) if it means losing his speakership.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@Tanker Actually it just means the GOP loses the House come 2014. I'm more than okay with that.

ScottVan
ScottVan

@MrObvious @allthingsinaname You apparently have a very short memory. Recall "Fiscal Cliff" from last year and the Super Committee? This great country can not continue to incur unchecked national debt. 

Diecash1
Diecash1

No,not so much. It's more akin to cutting waste.

berryk
berryk

lol..barney - perhaps it is an even stronger argument for a better education system and providing citizens with better critical thinking skills - or supports why our system is so broken. Perhaps it is on purpose.  According to Shaull, there is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the 'practice of freedom', the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.(Mayo 1999).

I recently read an article in which it was disclosed that in 2006 a study by Good Jobs First revealed that various Wal-Mart stores around the U.S. have received over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars.  How about this irony... because the wages are so low at Walmart by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, there were 3,216 Wal-Mart employees who were enrolled in Wisconsin public health care programs, more than any other employer. If you include dependents of Wal-Mart workers and the total jumps up to 9,200. Additionally, Wal-Mart now accepts foodstamps for food purchases.  If this is not a lesson in corporate socialism perpetuated by greed and ignorance I am not sure what is.



ScottVan
ScottVan

@Sparrow55 @mantisdragon91 @Tanker Better take a look at the polls this morning. Obama is now down to 37% approval and the majority of Americans want him to stop taking the "my way or the highway" approach. All sides are taking a butt kicking.  I find it ironic there is criticism of the Republicans when they are asking to negotiate and Obama steadfastly refuses.

cherokeeqwerty
cherokeeqwerty

@Sparrow55 @mantisdragon91 @TankerWith the end of the GOP will also come the downfall of Wall Street Tycoons who think that they run the country. I tell you now and mark my words, "Republicans will be extinct and the Preamble to our Constitution will resound "We the People" because we as a people will finally have won a major victory over tyranny that's been concealed and hiding in our government pretending to be for the people and by the people.

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@mantisdragon91 @Tanker I agree 100%.  The GOP totally miscalculated how the rest of the country would react to them holding America hostage.  The GOP discredited themselves and John Boehner is just digging them deeper into a hole.  Let Boehner fall.  The GOP is toast.  They will lose the House and have no chance of taking control of the Senate in 2014.  If Hillary runs in 2016, the GOP will be driven to the edge of extinction.  The GOP and the Tea Party are reaping what they have sown.   

barneydidit
barneydidit

@berryk Well then clearly Berry, Walmart needs a tax break...so that they can open more stores and hire more people at sub-poverty wages, so that more states can use more of their budgets to keep their citizens alive after more mom and pop stores have closed down because they were having to pay the taxes Walmart was escaping. I'll submit my plan to John Boehner shortly.