From the press conference, it was clear that the President understands three things: first, he is serious about tackling the debt problem. He does not want to kick the can down the road, and he is challenging Republicans to join him. Perhaps that will result in some angering of the ideologically strident on both sides, but it's time to rise above politics. Second, he understands that in that assessment, the American people stand with him. Third, in negotiations, he has the upper hand - hell, he has the GOP's number. That's why the President was so calm, cool, collected - none of which prevented him from conveying the urgency of the situation to the American people.
Serious About Tackling Debt
It should be abundantly clear to everyone that the president is serious about debt reduction. He understands that it will be tough, it will require politicians, including himself to make difficult choices. It would involve difficult cuts. But he also made it crystal clear that solving the nation's debt problem needs to be a statement of our values: we must stand for protecting and strengthening our social safety net with those who need it in mind (which means that perhaps people who are well to do - the President used himself as an example - can contribute more when they are paying taxes and/or when they are collecting), investing in critical infrastructure and education, as well as - yes, tax reform which will ask the wealthy to pay more. Only a balanced approach, not political posturing or the mooing of the sacred cows, can solve the nation's debt woes.
Of course, the debt limit hostage crisis created by the Republicans is not an optimal place to begin that conversation. But the Republicans forced the issue, and the President took them up on it, with all sincerity. Which is why the American people are now squarely on his side on this issue.
The President continued to pursue a grand bargain to get the debt and deficit problem seriously under control, while putting Congressional Republicans in their place for planning to kick the can down the road. He recognized the Republican attempt to pass a balanced budget amendment (no one yet knows what form it will take as the Republicans probably also plan to limit revenue) as such a tactic, and said "We don't need a balanced budget amendment to do our jobs... We need to do our jobs."
President Obama also continued to put the GOP in a corner by signaling his willingness to do entitlement reform, if the Republicans still can come back to the table with a reasonable package, that will have to include revenue increases. He was willing to accept a package that only did the debt limit and did not tackle the debt problem, but only as a last resort (see Lawrence O'Donnell about how masterfully the President set it up). It turns out that the President knows how to focus on the policy of it, and when necessary, to squeeze the GOP on the politics.
The Politics and Why the GOP is Squealing
In answer to a loaded question from MSNBC's Chuck Todd about whether he regretted not having sold his idea of a grand bargain to the American people, the President answered emphatically, "The American people are sold!" 80% of the American people, like the President, support a balanced approach that involves both cutting spending and raising tax revenues by shutting down corporate tax avoidance loopholes once and for all. The President is correct. According to Gallup, only 20% of Americans want a deal with spending cuts only.
In the mean time, the Republicans are stepping into further disarray and further retreat. The Senate Republicans are realizing the poisonous effect the Teabagging Right has on their party, as well as the President's brilliance on using it to put the Republicans in a position to make a choice: stick with the anti-tax Teabagger and expose yourselves as frauds who are not serious about debt reduction, or make the tough choices and suffer the short term electoral consequences to do right by the country.
Guess what choice the Senate GOP is trying to force Eric Cantor and his band of Teapublicans into? Retreat and exposure, as Think Progress reports:
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Corker (R-TN) have both indicated they are rethinking the wisdom of tying a debt ceiling increase to a drastic deficit reduction package now that the country is on the brink of economic disaster:Haha hahahahaha. I would say they have it about right, except the fact that they think this was a wrong time to pick a fight with the President. The truth is that it is the wrong time to "pick a fight" with this President anytime. It's not that they picked a fight at the wrong time. It's that they picked a fight with the wrong guy. This president has proven beyond any doubt that when he gets into the right, it's only a matter of time before the the fight-picker is knocked on their face. If you want to have serious policy discussions and are serious about governing, this President's door is always open, and he will negotiate and make compromises necessary in good faith. But if you are coming to be a political nutjob to just "pick a fight," you are picking a fight with the wrong guy.
“Maybe the debt ceiling was the wrong place to pick a fight, as it related to trying to get our country’s house in order,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Thursday. “Maybe that was the wrong place to do it.”Meanwhile Graham, an influential member of the Republican caucus, “conceded Wednesday that he and his fellow Republicans are now eating their own words as they try to convince the country they are working to stave off a federal default”:
Speaking from the Senate floor, Corker said Republicans demanded linking the two issues because the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in more than 800 days. “I credit both sides for that,” he said. But now, the inability of the White House and Congress to agree to a spending deal — and ensure a timely debt ceiling increase — is “helping our great nation go into decline.”
“Our problem is we made a big deal about this for three months. How many Republicans have been on TV saying, ‘I’m not going to raise the debt limit.’ You know, Mitch [McConnell] says, ‘I’m not going to raise the debt limit unless we talk about Medicare.’ And I’ve said I’m not going to raise the debt limit until we do something about spending and entitlements.’ So we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves,” Graham told reporters after a GOP caucus lunch.
“We shouldn’t have said that if we didn’t mean it.”
When the Republicans came to power in the House in last year's midterm elections thanks to money from the Wall Street elite and enthusiastic support from the Tea Party extremists, they thought they could run President Obama over and force insane amounts of cuts, leveraging the debt ceiling vote. They were convinced - convinced - of a mandate. But it turns out that the American people are on President Obama's side on this one. The President has already succeeded at exposing that the Republicans are not serious about deficit reduction or putting the country's fiscal house back in order.
A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday has bad news for the Republicans - not only Congress, half under their total control and half having its life sucked out under their obstruction juggernaut, has disastrous approval ratings but,
- Nearly half of voters will blame Republicans over the President if the debt limit is not raised, only a third will blame the President.
- By a whopping 67-25 margin, voters believe that a plan to raise the debt should include tax increases for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.
The polls that now find that voters oppose a debt-limit increase will turn on a dime when Americans start learning that they won't get Social Security checks. Republicans will then run like they're fleeing the Pamplona bulls, and chaotic retreats are the ugliest kind. By then they might end up having to vote for a debt-limit increase and a tax increase.Ta-da! Translation: You effing morons, the more time goes by, the stronger Obama's hand gets. Make a deal now! NOW! Surrender!
The tea party/talk-radio expectations for what Republicans can accomplish over the debt-limit showdown have always been unrealistic. As former Senator Phil Gramm once told us, never take a hostage you're not prepared to shoot. Republicans aren't prepared to stop a debt-limit increase because the political costs are unbearable. Republicans might have played this game better, but the truth is that Mr. Obama has more cards to play.
While all of the Republican chaos is fun to watch, at the same time, it is disheartening, however, to watch the Republicans run around and try to convince their colleagues that screwing with the debt limit is playing with fire - in political terms. It's all about who will bear the political burden of raising the debt limit, whether it was the "wrong time to pick a fight", and so forth. No Republican policymaker - not one - is trying to explain to their extremists colleagues that a default is disastrous for the country, and it's not because of its politics but because of its economics. Granted, it's hard to convince a bunch of blowhards from the Voodoo economics schools, but Republican leaders would do well to start educating their colleagues for the good of the country - now and in the future.