George Sarant

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STOP THE SHUTDOWN AND DON’T DEFAULT

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It is time to end the federal government impasse. One of the cardinal rules of strategy is to avoid getting involved in a war you can’t win. That is where the Republicans find themselves now. There are principled people who insist that they hold the line, but they are missing a far brighter, bigger picture. I am not suggesting that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats, as well as the administration are not more at fault, but rather that occasionally a tactical retreat in battle leads to victory in the greater war. Since the Republicans currently do not have the votes to carry the Senate, their focus should be on winning the necessary votes in 2014. Given that the prevailing narrative is stacked against them, contributing to public disapproval, there is no dishonor in a temporary retreat, when a larger gift is waiting in the wings. 

That gift is Obamacare. The rollout has been disastrous, the Affordable Care Act is more unpopular than ever, and public ire is still growing. If it were not for the partial “government shutdown” and threatened default, the leading story in the news would now be the colossal ineptitude of the Obamacare administration. A ridiculously expensive website that doesn’t work, unexpected rising health care costs for individuals, enrollment failure, administrative incompetence, etc. would be dominating the headlines. The only thing preventing that from happening is the continuing drama of the failure of the congress and administration to reach an agreement. Yes the President himself is culpable for refusing to negotiate or discuss anything, where a more skilled politician might at least pretend to consider compromise. Yes the Senate Democrats have moved the goal posts by throwing the sequester into the mix. But being in the right means nothing if the perception of it is not there. Life isn’t fair.

Unfortunately some people are too stupid to recognize when they have a winning hand. The implementation of Obamacare is the gift that will keep on giving through 2014, and perhaps beyond. As one problem after another manifests itself, it may collapse to the point where most people realize it is unworkable. The blame for this will rest squarely on the Democrats, since they forced it through when they had a majority in both houses without any input or a single vote from the other side. That would portend huge losses in the elections next year, because they effectively own Obamacare. Consequently it makes no sense to maintain a scenario where public anger is directed towards congress and the Republicans as long as this stalemate lasts. It is time to put an end to this and get out of the line of fire, and thereby reap the rewards. 

More serious is the prospect of default, which is undermining the dollar and causing deep anxiety in the rest of the world. If the US cannot maintain full faith and credit, if it is no longer perceived as being a rock solid oasis of stability, the damage will be immense, and the international reserve currency role of the dollar will be diminished. Serious damage has already occurred, and it will take some effort to repair and re-establish confidence. On this question the President has to give something, if only to avoid going down in history as the official who presided over a disastrous default that could have been avoided. Any reasonable person can see that averting this ought to have top priority over any other considerations. 

Those trying to make the government more accountable are completely right, but brinksmanship tactics are wrong and will only backfire. Far better to let the administration sink under the weight of its own pretensions and take a sober, longer-term view that is far more likely to produce the desired objectives. 

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Written by georgesarant

October 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM

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