To judge from his surly demeanor and defiant words at his press conference Monday, Barack Obama begins his second term with a strategy to defeat and humiliate Republicans rather than a strategy to govern.
His point-blank refusal to negotiate over the debt ceiling was clearly designed to make the House Republicans look bad.
But Obama knows very well that negotiations usually accompany legislation to increase the government’s debt limit. As Gordon Gray of the conservative American Action Network points out, most of the 17 increases in the debt ceiling over the last 20 years have been part of broader measures.
Working out what will be in those measures is a matter for negotiation between the legislative and executive branches. That’s because the Constitution gives Congress the power to incur debt and the president the power to veto.
Obama supporters like to portray Republican attempts to negotiate as hostage-taking or extortion. But those are violent crimes. Negotiations — discussions attempting to reach agreement among those who differ — are peaceful acts.
What we do know, from Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics,” is that Obama is not very good at negotiating. He apparently can’t stomach listening to views he does not share.