Beneath the hardline approach to the budget fight being pushed by Tea Party activists and their allies in Congress, there is a certain assumption about how negotiations work.
The idea is that if they force Republicans to publicly stake out the most uncompromising position possible, even if they don’t achieve that end, then the inevitable agreement will be further to the right than it otherwise would have been.
There’s no doubt that when approaching a negotiation, the starting position should be more ambitious than where one is willing to settle. But when the starting bid is so far outside of the realm of possibility, it doesn’t help that side’s negotiating position. In fact, it could have the opposite effect.
Let’s say a guy is offered a job for $50,000 a year. If his response is to say that he really was looking for $65,000, then perhaps he has a chance of improving upon the employer’s initial offer. But if, instead, he tells the employer, “If you don’t pay me $10 million, I’ll walk,” the response isn’t likely to be, “Okay, how about $200,000?” Instead, the employer is more likely to say, “There’s the door.”
This is pretty much the position that Republicans now find themselves in. They embraced the strategy of tying the continued funding of government to an impossible demand.
Obamacare isn't just the president's signature legislative accomplishment. It isn't just a law that he dedicated 13 of the first 14 months of his presidency to passing. It isn't just a law that Democrats paid for dearly by losing control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Enacting some sort of national health care program has been a prevailing goal of liberals for decades, arguably for a century.
Demanding that Obama, having survived re-election with the Democratic Senate majority intact, defund this law in exchange for keeping the government running is like asking that hypothetical employer for $10 million. Expecting him to cave is pure fantasy. Do conservatives think that they are the only ones who can apply pressure? Do they somehow forget that there are liberal activists on the other side who would crucify Obama were he to give in to the defund effort?
So, having embraced a maximalist negotiating position that was beyond the realm of the possible, it isn’t surprising where Republicans now find themselves. With Republicans suffering in the polls as the shutdown drags on, leadership is looking for any sort of face-saving concession from the White House that can offer a way out, while Obama’s position isn’t moving an inch closer to undoing Obamacare.