Shutdown demonstrates how not to negotiate

Nearly two years ago, I wrote on these same pages how the deficit reduction “supercommittee” that was supposed to reign in the nation’s debt was “predictably unsuccessful.” Perhaps the same goes for the current situation in Washington. Over these past two years, sequestration has continued with no end in sight. Congress has failed to pass a budget through both houses. The government is operating on continuing resolutions (CRs). Now, we’re in shutdown mode.

No, I don’t have the answer to ending the shutdown. A grand bargain seems less and less likely by the day. Republicans have already compromised enough on Obamacare. The final continuing resolution which passed the House before the shutdown only delayed the individual mandate by one year and cut subsidies Congressional staff members are getting to buy insurance on the new health exchanges. I guarantee most of you did not know this was the real contention before reading this piece.

Why not delay the individual mandate, like the employer mandate was delayed for one year by the administration? That would only be fair. In a Washington Post blog post, Ezra Klein argues that “it’s simply too late to delay the mandate. Doing so would mean that every insurer participating in the Obamacare marketplaces would have to pull their product and increase their premiums to account for the fact that there would be more sick people and fewer healthy people signing up.”

At first glance, this seems a sound argument. Delaying the individual mandate would be almost the same as defunding Obamacare just as the implementation begins. Then, you realize that a delay of one year has already been granted to big business. And, there is really no way to determine how many people would now not sign up due to the mandate delay. The government’s own non-partisan Congressional Budget Office also says delaying the mandate would save an upwards of $36 billion over the next year in reduced subsidies and more tax revenues (ironic, huh?).

Not buying this so far? Consider when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius went on the Daily Show Monday night and could not explain to host Jon Stewart why the individual mandate could not be delayed. If the reason was as simple as Klein makes it out to be, then maybe Sebelius should have just answered the question? Stewart asked Sebelius multiple times to no avail.

The other sticking point is over congressional staff losing subsidies for when they buy insurance on the exchanges. As Sebelius told Stewart, plans will be available for less than $100 per month. So where is the problem here? Could congressional staff members be forced to switch doctors, as many other Americans will have to under the plan?

The real reason for the shutdown, however, goes deeper than policy. After spending the summer in Washington and talking with other Swarthmore students, I think the polarization on Capitol Hill has reached a new low. Many Democrats, including the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), believe that Republicans are crazy and reject the starting point for the negotiations.

On Tuesday, Obama said he wanted to negotiate with “reasonable Republicans.” He complained that the House Republicans are taking America “hostage” and demanding “ransom.” Reid went further, referring to the Republicans who want to defund Obamacare as a “small band of anarchists.” This rhetorical hyperbole presents what I think is the biggest block in negotiations: Democrats cannot see the Republican position as even an acceptable starting place for negotiations. When you view your opponent’s ideas as crazy and irrational, you refuse to engage them in a negotiation.

This has become all too common down in Washington, and closer to home at Swarthmore. Dismissing the other side as crazy does nothing to advance your cause, besides stir up animosity with your opponents.

Ever since the advent of the Tea Party prior to the 2010 midterms, the term “crazy” has been thrown around far too much to describe conservatives. Tea Party members who have legitimate ideas about reducing the size of the federal government are dismissed by Democrats, and some Republicans, as insane. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) famously referred to Senators Cruz and Rand Paul (R-KY) as “whacko birds.”

Far too often I have heard the same criticism at Swarthmore. Conservatives have legitimate ideas for America’s path forward, and they should be accepted as such. You may not agree with the ideas, but at least recognize that the ideas exist for a reason: a justified mistrust of government.

Surviving as a conservative at an institution like Swarthmore where the majority of the student body is left-leaning requires you to understand the prevailing points of view on every issue. While I often disagree with my peers here, I accept that they have legitimate ideas. Then, we can talk. Negotiating starts when the person on the other side of the table is rational.

Democrats in Washington would be wise to quit talking about conservatives as crazy people. Real negotiations cannot start until this ends.