If Republicans Don’t Like the Shutdown, Why Do They Say Ending It Would Be “Surrender”?

How you look at things.
Oct. 10 2013 12:33 PM

“Surrender” Creep

If Republicans don’t like the shutdown, why do they say ending it would be “surrender”?

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) addresses reporters during a news conference with fellow House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 4, 2013.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks during a news conference with House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 4, 2013.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In the debate over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner has a habit of moving the goalposts. He keeps redefining what counts as “surrender.”

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Three months ago, in talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Boehner agreed to pass a resolution, free of extraneous demands, that would continue to fund the government well beyond this point. Boehner essentially acknowledged this in an ABC News interview on Sunday:

George Stephanopoulos: [Reid] said … that you came to him back in July and offered to pass a clean government funding resolution—no Obamacare amendments—that was $70 billion below what the Senate wanted. They accepted it, and now you've reneged on that offer.
Boehner:
Now, clearly there was a conversation about doing this.
Stephanopoulos:
Several conversations.
Boehner:
Several. But—
Stephanopoulos:
And you offered a clean resolution.
Boehner:
But I and my members decided that the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.
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So Boehner reneged. Just before the shutdown deadline, he added a demand that Obamacare be defunded. Reid refused. At a meeting at the White House on Oct. 2, Reid offered to stick with the original deal: Pass a clean continuing resolution, then we’ll talk about Obamacare.

No way, said Boehner. Going back to the original deal would be capitulation. At a press conference on Oct. 4—at which Boehner made clear that “the issue right now is the continuing resolution to open the government,” not the debt ceiling—Boehner claimed that Reid’s position was, “He's not going to talk until we surrender.”

Moderates floated the idea of a short-term increase in the debt ceiling, to give both sides time to iron out their differences. This would give Republicans what they wanted—a broader negotiation over various policies—while allowing them to withhold, as leverage, a long-term debt-ceiling hike. But conservatives insisted that even a short-term increase had to include policy concessions. Boehner ridiculed the offer to talk after a debt-ceiling extension. “Complete surrender, and then we'll talk to you,” he called it.

Boehner did say one interesting thing about the debt ceiling. He told Stephanopoulos: “I do not want the United States to default on its debt, but I am not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with the problems that are driving the debt up.” That was a curious formulation. It suggested that in exchange for raising the debt limit, Boehner might accept a formal “conversation” rather than up-front concessions on entitlements or Obamacare. So Obama took him up on the idea. At a press conference Tuesday, Obama suggested:

If there's a way to solve this, it has to include reopening the government and saying America is not going to default, it's going to pay our bills. They can attach some process to that that gives them some certainty that, in fact, the things they're concerned about will be topics of negotiation … If they want to say, “Part of that process is we're going to go through line-by-line all the aspects of the president's health care plan that we don’t like, and we want the president to answer for those things,” I'm happy to sit down with them for as many hours as they want.

An hour later, reporters asked Boehner about Obama’s offer. The speaker scoffed: “What the president said today was, if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he will sit down and talk to us. That's not the way our government works.”

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