Eleanor Clift interviewed former House Speaker Denny Hastert for the Daily Beast this week, and the part that’s getting the most attention is Hastert’s claim that there’s never really been a Hastert Rule. But that’s not the most interesting part of the interview. It’s this part, where Clift asks him why there’s so much gridlock right now:
Pressed on the differences between then and now, Hastert said: “I didn’t have to deal with Barack Obama. I dealt with Bill Clinton, and he came to the table and negotiated.” In August 2000, with Clinton nearing the end of his term, Hastert needed to resolve some outstanding issues….Clinton asked, “What can I do for you?” “A haircut across the board,” Hastert replied. “I would suggest a 1 percent cut.” Can’t take that, Clinton said, offering all the reasons why that wouldn’t work. “What do you suggest?” Hastert asked him. A quarter of 1 percent, Clinton replied. “We dickered back and forth and settled on .86 percent, not because it was a magic number,” said Hastert. “But the moral of the story is Clinton would come to the table. I’m not going to go into the science of negotiating, but you can put one thing on the table and end up with something entirely different, but you’ve got to talk.”
I get that Hastert is being a good trouper here, and I don’t really blame him for that. But the real moral of the story is exactly the opposite of what he suggests. In 2000, he asked Clinton for a particular level of funding; he dickered for a bit; and then eventually settled for a little less than he originally wanted. By contrast, in 2013 John Boehner asked for a budget at sequester levels of funding; Obama eventually agreed to give him 100 percent of what he asked for; and then Boehner turned down the deal anyway.
The difference isn’t that Obama won’t dicker. The difference is that House Republicans aren’t willing to accept the funding levels they asked for in the first place. They won’t let the government reopen unless they get more, more, more. The issue isn’t Clinton vs. Obama, it’s Republicans in 2000 vs. Republicans in 2013.