As we are currently (October 1, 2013) witnessing the government shutdown that has taken place in the United States, blamed on, according to polls, by the Republican party in the House of Representative who have decided not to fund the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) in the budget because they don’t like it. It is fine not to like something but to have a tantrum and shutdown the government because of it is not only irresponsible but will probably prove to be counterproductive. Though one may be sympathetic to the Republican position on the ACA, many believe they are still obligated to play by the rules that have been established and followed for a long time by the Congress. One thing Americans do not like is a bully.
This raises a bigger question in how do you negotiate with someone who does not like a part of something that has already been established and now want to kill it. The Republicans are engaged in this game with the ACA. Democrats obviously will not go along with this since they fought hard to enact the ACA. Thus we have an impasse that has resulted in a government shutdown.
What to do?
To resolve this impasse will require some kind of a negotiation as both parties have dug in their heels of their respective positions and have the votes to stop the other side from winning.
How to get out of this impasse?
What should President Barack Obama do?
What would you do if you find yourself in a similar position?
Should President Obama negotiate with the Republicans?
If he does decide to negotiate, how should he negotiate with the Republicans?
Here are the positions of both parties in a nutshell:
Republicans want to kill the Affordable Care Act in the budget.
Democrats and Barack Obama will not agree to any budget deal that defunds or delays the ACA since the law has been passed by the Congress, it was judged constitutional by the Supreme Court and Obama won the re-election in 2012 running onthe implementation of the ACA.
Though this is politics that we are seeing in the news quite often, but we also encounter these kind of situations in business and in life.
This reminds me of a valuable negotiation lesson that I learned when I was in college taking an introductory course in electrical engineering on circuits.
After we received our mid term test, I was disappointed that I received a “B” and felt that one or two problems were graded little harshly by the teaching assistant (TA). I felt that I should have gotten a “B+.". I was tempted to submit the test for a review.
I decided not to do this when the professor explained to the class his grading policy. He said that the tests have been graded by the TAs according to his guidelines, and if anyone submits the test for a review, then he will personally grade the entire test to make sure that the students did not only lose any points but also did not gain any points. In a sense he was not going to look at the parts of the test that the student was interested in but the whole test to be fair to his grading policy. This quickly convinced me that I better live with my “B” grade since I was not willing to roll a dice. I had a suspicion that the professor would go through the test with a fine tooth comb and would not be generous in his grading.
I know what the professor was doing. He did not want to waste a lot of time dealing with students trying to nickel and dime him for couple of extra points. He thought it was unfair to the TAs if he focused on the questions that students felt where they should have gotten more points and not look at other questions where the students may not have deserved extra points.
This brings me to my friend Chris who was taking this class with me. He got an “A-” on the test and felt that few points were taken off unfairly. He felt that he should have gotten an “A” grade. I told him to think hard before submitting the test for a review. He was very stubborn and did not listen to me and submitted his test for a review.
When he received his test back, his grade went from “A-” to a “B+” and, understandably, he was livid that he dropped a grade. How was this possible? He went to see the professor for a further explanation and to plead his case. I accompanied him since I did not want him to lose his temper with the professor.
The professor was very fair and explained to him calmly what he had told the students about his grading policy. He again explained that if a student is going to nitpick on few points, then, to be fair, he also had to make sure that a student was also not a beneficiary of a TA’s oversight in grading. This made sense to me. My friend did not want to hear anything about this and was cursing as we left the professor’s office, and even called the professor a “tenured a**hole” once we were far away so the professor could not hear it.
Chris was a very smart student but didn’t realize that the professor had a very strong negotiating position. He was willing to review the test as a whole, not in parts that Chris was interested in. Hopefully, Chris learned a hard lesson that real good negotiation is a lose-lose proposition. Though he did gain couple of points on the question he felt where he deserved more points, but lost points on others, so his net was a negative and he ended up with a lower grade after the review.
If you are ever in a negotiation, remember negotiation is not only about what you are likely to gain but what are you willing to lose. If you don’t want to lose anything than don’t enter into a negotiation. Negotiation is a lose-lose proposition.
I don’t remember a lot about circuits from that course today, but I did learn a valuable negotiation lesson that I will never forget.
What can Obama learn from the professor that he can use with the Republicans?
Republicans want to negotiate the ACA---to kill it. They are not going to get this. Obama knows that ACA is constitutional and if the Republicans really want to negotiate then it should be a much broader negotiation than just the part of the budget they don’t like.
Obama has to put the Republicans on defensive and bring up something that he does not like in the budget during the negotiation that the Republicans don't want to negotiate. He should open up the negotiation that looks at the whole and not the parts. Republicans may not accept this since they may end up losing lot more than getting some concessions on the ACA.
Obama needs to find out whether the Republicans are serious about negotiation or playing a "I win, you lose" game. It is possible they may get some points on ACA but could lose more on other areas and their net, as my friend Chris discovered, could be negative. If Republicans want the Obama to surrender, then they are not going to get anything and the impasse will continue. The Republicans have to decide if winning a little on the ACA is worth losing a lot in some other areas they don’t want to bring up for negotiation, such as taxes, subsidies, sequestration, etc.
The Republicans have miscalculated as my friend Chris did. They don't have the upper hand and it will just embolden the Democrats to take a harder line during the negotiation. At the end, this will go down the wire and clean CR bill will be passed and we will back to this brinkmanship all over again. Unless someone is hurt during the election, this will go on for a while.
This is a very good learning lesson we are all learning that in negotiation you should refrain from taking a hard position that is very difficult to back away from.
Next time when you are in a negotiation, if the other party does not like the parts, then you have to open it up to negotiate the whole. If you negotiate parts that the other party is interested in, then you are in a win-lose negotiation game. Open it up to the whole and find out how much is the other party willing to lose to make it a true “win-win” negotiation.