Obviously much has been said and written about the debt ceiling negotiations, including how dysfunctional they are. More than one public commentator has wondered aloud about how a skilled mediator would deal with this mess.
I won’t get into the policies or the discussion about why we are having this crisis instead some sensible agreement having been reached long ago.
From a conflict resolution perspective, at least one thing was missing when Speaker Boehner negotiated one-on-one with President Obama. The Speaker of the House did not have “authority”. When sides sit down for a serious negotiation in an attempt to settle a dispute, each side must have authority. That is, whoever is at the table to represent one side in the dispute must have the power to reach a binding agreement. In the context of a lawsuit, sending a representative without authority to a mediation session is a waste of time and money — at best. More likely, the very act of sending someone without authority infuriates the other side.
Here, Speaker Boehner could not get enough support from House Republicans to seal the deal he wanted to make with the President. In the dispute resolution sense, he lacked authority.