WASHINGTON – To the chagrin of many in his own party, President Barack Obama has almost always been willing to negotiate — on taxes, on spending, even on the social safety net.
But in the current fights over a potential government shutdown and the debt limit, the Democratic president has decided where he will draw the line.
On Thursday, Obama categorically rejected the Republican demand that he roll back the Affordable Care Act in order to keep the government open and also refused to entertain negotiations on raising the debt ceiling.
Both positions, a centerpiece of his strategy this fall, are striking for a president who has made his willingness to meet the opposition “more than halfway” a defining characteristic of his political persona. Obama gave in on a key feature of his health care plan in 2010 — a public insurance option — and engaged in a lengthy negotiation over the debt ceiling in 2011.
But in his remarks Thursday, Obama said Republicans are trying “to blackmail” him over the health care law and pledged he will have none of it.
“Some have threatened a government shutdown if they can’t shut down this law,” Obama said at an event at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Maryland. “Others have actually threatened an economic shutdown by refusing to pay America’s bills if they can’t delay the law. That’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”
He added: “I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”
But the approach exposes the president to significant risks. On the debt ceiling, Obama could be blamed for refusing to negotiate if the nation defaults and the economy falls into a tailspin. Republicans argue that they would be seen as the ones extending a hand to the other side and would blame the president for declining a deal.
In refusing to negotiate over the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as “Obamacare” — he is standing his ground over a so-far unpopular law.
On Thursday, the administration announced it would delay a part of the law affecting small businesses.
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the first Democrat to endorse a delay in the individual mandate, the provision that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance and which Republicans are seeking to postpone.
“I think the American people are on our side in saying that the president should come to the table and negotiate,” Republican Rep. Peter King said Thursday on MSNBC.
Many Democrats see Obama’s decision in 2011 to negotiate with Republicans over the debt limit as a profound mistake. Obama agreed to the deep spending cuts known as sequestration in order to get Republicans to hike the debt limit — cuts that are now chipping away at all his economic priorities.
Republicans argue Obama is being disingenuous by refusing to negotiate. They note that lawmakers have often demanded concessions from the White House in order to raise the borrowing limit, which allows the government to pay for spending already approved by Congress.
But White House officials say Obama has no choice but to reject any discussion on the debt limit, saying it is the first time ever that the minority party has tried to force massive changes to public policy by threatening a default of the federal debt.
In remarks to CNN, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer likened House Republicans to “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” and White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “It would be irresponsible” to allow the debt limit to become “part of a political extortion game.”