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Robinson: President Obama ups the ante on GOP's poor hand

A crazy thing is happening in shuttered, dysfunctional Washington: Democrats are pushing back.

This phenomenon is so novel and disorienting that many Republicans in Congress, especially the tea party bullies, seem unable to grasp what's going on. They keep expecting President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fold like a cheap suit because, well, such a thing has happened before. I guess it's understandable that the GOP might have forgotten the difference between bluffing and actually holding a winning hand.

Late last week, Reid began demanding that Republicans not only reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling but that they also make concessions on the draconian, irrational-by-design budget cuts known as sequestration. In political terms, he is demanding that the GOP pay a price for putting the country through all this needless drama.

Suddenly, Republicans who thought it was fine to hold the government and the economy hostage in order to nullify a duly enacted law — the Affordable Care Act — are shocked that Democrats would even suggest tampering with another duly enacted law: the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the "sequester" cuts.

Was Reid moving the goal posts? Of course he was. That's what negotiators do when they have the upper hand.

It seemed clear from the beginning that House Republicans had overreached by shutting down the government in an attempt to block the health insurance reforms popularly known as Obamacare. For one thing, many of the Affordable Care Act's provisions were already in force. For another, any residual questions about the law had been thoroughly litigated in last year's election.

Indeed, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday pronounced a devastating verdict: Fifty-three percent of those surveyed blamed Republicans for the shutdown, as opposed to 31 percent who blamed Obama — a worse pounding for the GOP than the party suffered when Newt Gingrich shut down the government during the Clinton administration. A separate survey by Gallup showed the Republican Party with an approval rating of just 28 percent, the lowest the firm has ever measured for either party.

Such stunning numbers not only threaten to dash the GOP's hopes of winning control of the Senate next year but also challenge the party's ability to hold its majority in the House.

So there's no question who's winning and who's losing. Still, it's refreshing to see Democrats act accordingly.

The standard pattern since Republicans captured the House in 2010 goes something like this: House Speaker John Boehner makes outrageous demands. Obama negotiates a "compromise" package heavily weighted toward Republican priorities, but Boehner can't deliver his caucus. Fearful that tea party vandals might burn down the house, Democrats end up agreeing to a short-term deal that gives the GOP much of what it wants.


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