As Republican brinkmanship intensifies, Barack Obama must hold his nerve

There can be no negotiation when there is nothing to negotiate

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The most powerful country on earth and the lynchpin of the international financial system is now 12 days into a shutdown of its government and five days from a potentially calamitous financial default. Responsibility for America’s absurd and unnecessary crisis is borne entirely by Congressional Republicans, driven by a right-wing faction that has seized control of the party.

The good news is that, after a fortnight of posturing, the Republican leadership – such as it is – appears to have grasped that its game of brinkmanship is leading to disaster for itself (the wider interests of the country seem not to figure highly in its calculations) and serious discussions to resolve the deadlock are now, finally, under way. The bad news is that the initial Republican proposals, discussed on Thursday at the White House, call for only a brief extension of the government’s debt ceiling – perhaps for six weeks – during which, we are told, the two sides might reach a long-term deal on the budget.

Sad to say, it is far more likely that no such “Grand Bargain” will be struck and that, some time in late November, Washington will be back to square one, scrambling yet again to stave off imminent default. After all, the current impasse is merely the latest instalment of a confrontation dating from the Republicans regaining control of the House of Representatives in January 2011. Nor, as of yesterday, was there any clear indication of when the shutdown will end, even though the overwhelming majority of Republicans now accept that the strategy of tying the re-opening of government to concessions by the President on his healthcare reform has failed miserably.

Barack Obama has won the argument, as every poll shows. Ideally, he must now stand firm. There can be no negotiation when there is nothing to negotiate – that is, when the House  of Representatives, driven by a minor faction,  is refusing its basic constitutional duty of permitting the government to pay its bills.

Elementary considerations of human sanity hold out the hope that debt default, and global financial meltdown, will be averted. Alas, however, politics is like war; to end a conflict, the winner must sometimes offer the loser a means to save face. Ultimately, resolution of Washington’s ridiculous crisis may depend on finding utterly undeserving Republicans a bolt-hole. But not yet.

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