Letter to the President, 7/15/11: On Congressional Negotiations

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

July 15, 2011

President Obama,

By the time this reaches you the situation will likely be over, or at least one would hope, but since a similar situation is almost certain to come up again sooner rather than later I’d like to share my thoughts with you about the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

In some regards you’re doing an excellent job.  You’re acting like the bigger man and staying above the fray, working to build consensus and compromise despite near-impossible odds.  That’s good, I respect that and I know millions of Americans agree with me.  However, when building consensus you must keep in mind who you’re attempting to build a consensus with, what their goals are and who, in the end, is being represented.

The stance of the House Republicans that all deficit reduction must come from cuts to services is absurd, and their general unwillingness to compromise is unreasonable.  They clearly don’t understand the concept of negotiation; regardless of your stance or the position any reasonable person has to understand that concessions have to be made.  When facing a debate opponent that won’t give an inch on principle, continued concessions are futile.  It just won’t help.  And to be fair the left isn’t all that much better, the partisan infection in government exists on both sides.

Your job is to be the adult in the room.  The right wants nothing but service cuts.  The left wants nothing but revenue increases.  So the reasonable thing to do, rather than coddle both sides essentially for the PR, is to split the difference, put the offer on the table and take your case to the American people.

A Pew survey in May showed that there is a consensus across the board on certain measures.  Cutting foreign aid, for example, is supported by 72% of people including 83% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats.  Generating revenue, again according to Pew, is even easier: 67% of people support raising the Social Security cap and 62% support reducing income tax deductions for large corporations (interestingly, 62% of Republicans support this as opposed to 58% of Democrats).  Even raising taxes on people earning $250,000 and up is supported by 66% of all Americans and 67% of Independents, with 49% of Republicans approving, which while not a majority is still a surprisingly high number considering the line coming from their representatives in Congress.

The people elected you to be the voice of reason, to take these measures which people outside Congress can agree on and put them in front of both sides.  Base your proposal on poll numbers and present it as the opinion of the American people.  From there, treat Congress like your daughters arguing in the back seat on a long car trip: They may cry and kick and scream and hold their breath, but it’s your job as the adult to hold firm on what you know is fair and reasonable until they concede to parental (or in this case the people’s) authority.  Giving in will only create spoiled partisan brats.

Not only will this chip away at the corrosive partisanship that’s crippling our nation, but I promise you that it will guarantee your reelection.  The right-wing partisans won’t vote for you regardless of what you do, and the left-wing partisans will vote for you regardless no matter what they say.  There’s nothing anyone can do about that.  Those in the middle, however, those who have jobs and lives to spend time on rather than arguing politics on the Internet all day, will recognize and respect your maturity and sensibility if you take a fair and equitable proposal that equally considers both sides directly to the people and stand behind it regardless of reaction.

Plus, while Ayn Rand may control the hearts and minds of Congressional Republicans, the people who hold the purse strings would never let them continue to hold their breath if it looks like the government may actually default on its debts.  Ideology is all well and good but in the end money always wins.


Daniel J. Willis

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