Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Shutdown deal: A 15-yard punt

By Ari Fleischer, Special to CNN
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Fri October 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ari Fleischer: Shutdown deal reached by Obama, Congress was a punt that went 15 yards
  • He says it'll likely happen again in January. Tea party's goals admirable, tactics must change
  • He says tea party must realize: To win, it needs votes. That's why it lost shutdown battle
  • Fleischer: Obama has also overreached--with Obamacare, call for tax hike

Editor's note: Ari Fleischer was White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and is the president of Ari Fleischer Sports Communications Inc. Follow him on Twitter: @AriFleischer

(CNN) -- The agreement reached by President Obama and Congress to reopen the government and avoid default was a punt, a punt that traveled 15 yards. It wasn't a budget agreement because nothing in it addressed any budgetary issues, nor was it a spending agreement, because spending continues at its current pace. It was a process agreement that saved the day, although the same fights that led to this crisis have been merely rescheduled. Another government shutdown is looming on January 16 and the nation will hit its debt limit on February 7.

As far as government work goes, it's about the best we can expect.

Ari Fleischer
Ari Fleischer

And that's the problem: The failure of our government to work properly, thanks to the weak leadership and ideological, re-distributionist preferences of President Obama combined with a deeply divided Republican caucus, means we're likely to go through the same saga again. It's also a reflection of how massive the nation's debt problem is and how difficult it will be to reduce it.

Here's what has gone wrong. Let's start with the tea party.

The tea party has been blamed more than any other group for the standoff of the past month. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and dozens of House Republicans have taken the brunt of the blame as the image of the Republican Party has hit record lows.

The tea party's dedication to repealing Obamacare and shrinking the size of government, as opposed to simply slowing the rate of growth, is admirable and desirable. Those goals unite the Republican Party. But tea party objectives will not be achieved if it doesn't change tactics.

Under our Constitution, massive overnight change is impossible unless you win elections. If the tea party wants results, it needs to elect candidates who can win and deliver votes in the House and Senate. In many ways, the tea party's fight is not with President Obama or with Speaker John Boehner. It's with James Madison. The tea party can't be President Obama's check and balance without realizing that under our Constitution the President also gets to be the tea party's check and balance.

Shutdown is over... what's next?
How to avoid another government crisis
Jones: Something about Cruz I admire

The fundamental error Republicans made in this fight was overreach. In trying to repeal Obamacare, Cruz and the tea party led Republicans into a fight that could not be won because they did not have the votes to win it. It's that simple.

Instead, this fight unrealistically raised the hopes of the GOP base for an effort that never had a chance. Ultimately, legislation like keeping the government open or increasing the debt limit must pass, but that doesn't mean anything can be attached to it. Republicans turned a must-pass goal into a will fail effort.

The tea party rebuttal? That type of practical approach is why Washington is a mess to begin with. They say they don't care about the politics, they ardently are trying to save the nation. Fair points. But the nation won't be saved if they can't muster the votes to save it.

As for President Obama, if he wanted to achieve a fundamental grand bargain with Republicans, he would have done so in 2011 when an agreement with Republicans was in sight. He talks like a centrist willing to break with liberal economic ideology, but from the stimulus to Obamacare to his push for tax increases, he has no record of governing like one.

Instead, he is driven to redistribute things, whether it's income, wealth or in the case of Obamacare, health insurance. He views the role of government as taking things of value from one citizen so they can be given to another. He promised that if you liked your health insurance you could keep it. Of course it's not as simple as that, as people are now realizing. For example, some companies may be dumping part or all their health coverage as Obamacare comes online, leaving employees to pay higher premiums and in some cases getting less coverage on the exchanges, according to a National Journal analysis.

Obama says the debt is a "long-term" problem, ignoring that it has grown from $10.6 trillion to nearly $17 trillion on his watch. He refuses to make any fundamental changes to Obamacare but he insists that Republicans agree to additional tax increases. Throughout the recent impasse, he refused to negotiate.

His poll numbers are around the worst levels of his presidency. The Real Clear Politics average shows more than half the country disapproves of the way he is handling his job. He is an unpopular president.

The tea party gets stuck with the extremist label, but for many, it's Obama's policies that are extreme.

Unless the just completed battle has exhausted both sides and they suddenly see merit in compromise and negotiation, January will be a repeat of October. In that case, the only issue left is which party do the voters kick out when they realize the only thing elected officials know how to do is punt?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ari Fleischer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT