Our democracy has not always operated smoothly. Our Founding Fathers had fierce debates in Independence Hall before negotiating what would become the Constitution.
Through negotiation, our Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances with three independent arms of government. The House of Representatives, with its frequent elections and large body of delegates, was designed to be the most responsive to the will of the people.
As a congressman, I take my duty to represent the will of my constituents seriously, and I join many of them in being deeply disappointed in President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “no negotiation” policy.
House Republicans, most of whom were elected on a promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” continue to believe that Obamacare is harmful to our economy and needs to be repealed, or at least delayed. We also strongly believe it is patently unfair for the administration to grant corporations and Congress exemptions from Obamacare while individuals remain forced to comply.
House Republicans passed three different bills before Oct. 1 to keep the government open and to mitigate the harmful effects of Obamacare.
Each of these compromised a little more to appease Reid.
His compromise: non-existent.
Since the partial shutdown, the House has passed eight bipartisan bills to reopen agencies and fund critical programs such as veterans’ benefits and children’s cancer treatments. Fifty-seven House Democrats (including two from Arizona) compromised with Republicans and voted for some or all of these funding measures. Meanwhile, Reid rejects them and Obama issues veto threats.
Now, the president is saying he won’t compromise on increasing our debt limit. Our nation is $17 trillion in debt, and he won’t discuss with Republicans how to fix our government’s spending addiction?
As a senator, Obama stated in 2006: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. … I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”
Fast-forward seven years, and it’s clear that Sen. Obama of 2006 would strongly oppose the “leadership failure” of President Obama in 2013. After all, it’s under his administration that our national debt has increased $6.1 trillion.
Perhaps the most disturbing glimpse into Obama’s strategy to end the shutdown came from a senior official who remarked in the Wall Street Journal: “We are winning. … It doesn’t really matter to us how long the shutdown lasts.”
Message to President Obama: This isn’t a game. There are no “winners” from a government shutdown and refusing to compromise. Likewise, there are no “losers” when our leaders negotiate. Our Founding Fathers proved this when they negotiated the Constitution.
Leadership is hard. It requires a willingness to work with those with whom you may disagree. Mr. President, it’s time to lead. Duly elected House Republicans are waiting for you at the table, and the American people are counting on you to rise above political isolationism.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us never fear to negotiate.” He’s right. As we have seen before, it could lead to great things for America.
U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon represents Arizona’s 5th District, which includes much of the southeast Valley.
This op-ed was published in The Arizona Republic.