Last week non-essential parts of the federal government closed for business because certain Republican lawmakers opposed continued funding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Next week has the potential for even greater disruption as federal government officials must reach agreement on raising the federal debt limit which allows the federal government to continue to borrow money. Their failure to do so will prevent the government from paying its existing debts. Given the current stalemate in Washington, it is not surprising the American people have such low regard for our federal leaders.

I applaud the President for bringing the congressional leadership to the White House to discuss the situation, but meeting just to tell the other side there will be no compromise serves no purpose.

- Alberto Gonzales, Former U.S. Attorney General

We need to reform our health care system. As a general matter, I am in favor of measures that make health insurance more affordable, thus making health care available to more Americans. Furthermore, like many Americans, I support provisions of the ACA that require coverage for pre-existing conditions, as well as those that allow family policies to cover children up to the age of 26. 

There are, however, many Americans who simply do not want the federal government telling them they have to buy health insurance. Additionally, it now appears the president was wrong when he promised that under the ACA Americans would still be able to keep their same insurance coverage and their current doctor if they chose to do so. Another harmful consequence of the ACA is that certain employers are reducing the work hours of full time employees in order to avoid the higher costs of the insurance coverage mandated under the ACA. 

Despite these problems, thus far the president has refused to compromise with Republicans. Rebuffing any attempt at change or delay, the president asserts the ACA is the law of the land, and reminds us that the ACA has been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court and validated by his re-election. The ACA is President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, and concern that concessions may be viewed as an acknowledgment the ACA is flawed is understandable. However, the president’s insistence lacks credibility since he has already effectively changed the law of the land multiple times by delaying the employer mandate and by granting numerous waivers and exemptions prior to implementing the ACA.

The president has said that a small extreme faction of one party should not be able to hold the federal government hostage. I agree, a government shutdown is not an appropriate way to govern. But, such tactics are certainly not unprecedented nor illegal. Delay and obstructionist tactics have been used by legislators from the minority party from the beginning of our Republic in order to prevent the majority from running “roughshod” over the rights and interests of their constituents. 

Nevertheless, the president and Democrats are rightly concerned that concessions now will only encourage similar obstructionist tactics in the future. Republicans who hope to capture the White House and control the Senate should be mindful that one day the shoe may be on the other foot, and then they may have to deal with similar tactics by the Democrats. Governance by obstructionism - by either party - is a failure of leadership. If, indeed, lawmakers have a message they believe is right for America then they should try to sell it on election day.

I applaud the president for bringing the congressional leadership to the White House to discuss the situation, but meeting just to tell the other side there will be no compromise serves no purpose - and certainly does not serve the interests of the American people. Discussions about the ACA have somewhat faded. However, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats are necessary over the debt ceiling, where the risk of damage to the economy is far greater and the president’s position is much less popular, even within his own party. 

We are all best served by the president acting as the “grown-up” and exercising leadership to facilitate a solution that helps address our healthcare crises, reduces our federal spending and the deficit, and restructures entitlement programs which in their current form cannot be sustained over the long term. The president is not responsible if members of Congress do not do their job, but neither is he blameless for allowing this situation to continue. It is time for him to lead.

Alberto R. Gonzales is the former U.S. Attorney General and White House Counsel in the George W. Bush Administration. Presently he is the Dean and Doyle Rogers Distinguished Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law.  

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