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EDITORIAL: The president blinks

His call for a meeting gives Republicans an opportunity to pivot to dismantling

- - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Democrats got what they prayed for, a government shutdown to damage Republicans in next fall's congressional elections. They think it might even enable them to regain control of the House of Representatives and over the following two years they could "fundamentally transform" the country.

History and common sense, however, suggest it might not work out that way. A president and a compliant Senate leader who reject negotiation and compromise are not likely to escape unharmed themselves as voters parcel blame. Voters might think the Republicans could have done more to avoid the shutdown, but they understand that the impasse was caused by a health care scheme they don't like.

The president, or an adviser with links to the real world, seems to have realized that stonewalling won't work. He put out a call for a meeting. Whether the meeting produces anything will depend on the willingness of both sides to leave the room with less than they hoped to get.

A continuing insistence on a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare seems more reasonable than it did the day before, when it became clear that the administration's rollout of Obamacare frustrated nearly everyone and demonstrated that Obamacare is just not ready for prime time.

Whether the Republican leaders have to give up this demand depends on the 2014 congressional elections. If Republicans hold the House and take the Senate by focusing on repealing Obamacare, they should have the votes to do that regardless of whether they force a delay this week. If they don't, the president will have the votes to reinstate, reinvigorate and implement his scheme.

The future of American health care will depend not on what happens this week, but on what happens in November 2014. That is the hard, cold fact that both sides have known from the beginning.

Even if voters turn against the Republicans because of the shutdown, Ted Cruz & Co. will have actually won this round by setting a Republican table for the 2014 elections. The Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, and the Democrats want it to impose it on everyone. The public stands with the Republicans on the substantive question. Obamacare was unpopular when it was proposed, unpopular when it was enacted, and is less popular now than ever, and likely to be more unpopular next November.

With this victory in hand, the Republicans should see what they can get in their meeting with the president and his congressional allies, and build on the victory won and prepare for 2014. They should turn their attention from shutting down the government to taking down nonessential government programs that do little good and threaten to bankrupt the nation.

A president willing to shut down a government, not just to save his "signature program" but to save the perquisites of his congressional friends and their staffs, will fight all attempts to downsize anything but the military, which he would like to do but dares not. The American voters will reward those who concentrate on cutting, downsizing and reforming a government that Americans see as too big, too costly and, for the first time in history, a threat to fundamental freedoms.