September 20, 2013
President Obama addresses members of the Business Roundtable. (Alex Wong/European Pressphoto Agency)
President Obama addresses members of the Business Roundtable. (Alex Wong/European Pressphoto Agency)

What the president said about the debt ceiling during his Business Roundtable speech was so nonsensical and bewildering it’s actually almost trivial. But nonetheless, it’s irresistible to tease the Democrats about this, especially following House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s gushing, high-profile lecture – aimed at Republicans specifically and Americans generally — about the president’s “brilliance and eloquence,” which she said must be frustrating for those who disagree with the president. But what the president said yesterday was anything but brilliant and eloquent. It’s perhaps one of the most memorable political lines since John Kerry’s infamous, “I actually did vote for [it] before I voted against it” comment during the 2004 campaign.

The president actually said, “Raising the debt ceiling …does not increase our debt.”  I’m not sure what he meant, and if White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to tidy up that statement maybe I missed it, but with thinking this muddled, it’s probably not the best time for the president to be negotiating with Republicans anyway. Trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt, in this case, he’s technically right. Raising the debt ceiling means that we will increase our debt eventually; we don’t increase it by the full amount the very next day.

Does the president believe the debt doesn’t matter? Will he even acknowledge that we should have less debt rather than more debt?

The president’s comments, combined with his refusal to engage with Congress, just adds to the confusion and the uncertainty. I’m not oblivious to the fact that some Republicans are undertaking a strategy that leads to nowhere and is destined to fail by trying to link the budget and debt ceiling to the defunding of Obamacare, but the president needs to step up and show leadership, not just lob partisan blasts and confusing blunders from the sidelines.

Nothing about what the president is saying or doing is getting us closer to a useful debate and a constructive outcome.

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