Political gridlock over Obamacare is not the real cause of the federal government shutdown, it's the president's lack of leadership, Ronald Reagan's chief of staff James Baker says.
"It's a failure of leadership to say, 'I'm just gonna sit here while the government remains closed,' or, with respect to the debt limit, 'I'll sit here and not negotiate and the catastrophic consequences I warned you of will just have to happen,'" Baker tells Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan.
Baker, who was secretary of state, secretary of Treasury and White House chief of staff under Reagan and George H.W. Bush was in office for eight of the 17 government shutdowns that have occurred since 1976.
He says the only way for Obama to turn things around is to pick up the phone, call House Speaker John Boehner and "start resolving" the problem.
"When a president doesn't control both sides of Congress he has to deal with the other party," Baker tells Noonan. "Resolve this thing by getting into a room and making the government work. The leader of our government should be willing to get into a room and sit down with the opposition."
Baker says negotiation is the key to politics, something he learned while watching Reagan battle a Democratic house throughout both terms of his presidency.
"Those days were bitter, but we got into a room and we thrashed it out," he said. "We worked it out, each side gave a little, and we got the government working."
Baker isn't the only Republican who believes Obama's lackluster leadership abilities are key: both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
and Republican Strategist Karl Rove h
ave said the same.
While Baker says lack of leadership is the crux of Washington's problems, he says his own party isn't in the clear.
"I don't think it was a very wise strategy for we Republicans to say we would not fund the government unless we defunded Obamacare," he said. "I don't think that's a smart political strategy, and I think we'll pay a price for it. . . . If you're gonna make your stand, make your stand on something you can accomplish."
Still, Baker believes a compromise can be reached. "You can't lead through obstinacy and political calculation," he said. Reagan did what was needed to get the job done, he added, that's what needs to happen now.
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