President Obama’s decision to give a speech tonight was proof that things have not gone well for him. He threw (another) tantrum in the Friday news conference, he turned down a bipartisan deal presented to him Sunday and thereby took himself out of the limelight. Tonight’s speech was not intended to “solve” the impasse but to make sure Obama would get credit if a deal is struck and avoid blame if it is not.
The speech itself was part panic attack, part platitudes and a whole lot of class warfare (corporate jets! hedge fund managers!). He stood awkwardly at the East Room podium, minus any press corps. He began with a ponderous recap of the budget train wreck, and then described his grand bargain (light on the details, because, of course, he never put a concrete plan out there). He ridiculed the Republican plan, saying it didn’t ask for sacrifices from the rich. But wait, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) doesn’t have taxes in his plan. In fact, his whole plan was an indictment of Reid’s no-tax plan. Apparently, he assumed no one was keeping up with current developments.
He then desperately argued against the short-term deal that is available to him and could pass the House. He talked down our credit rating. ( “a six-month extension of the debt ceiling might not be enough to avoid a credit downgrade and the higher interest rates that all Americans would have to pay as a result”) and said he couldn’t do a second deal because Republicans would again object to taxes. However, realizing that there is no chance of a deal that includes taxes and takes us through 2012, he left a little wiggle room. (“I think that’s a much better path, although serious deficit reduction would still require us to tackle the tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform. Either way, I have told leaders of both parties that they must come up with a fair compromise in the next few days that can pass both houses of Congress — a compromise I can sign.”)
It was a speech entirely divorced from reality. The Senate Democrats can’t pass tax hikes. The grand bargain can’t get through the Congress with jumbo tax hikes. It is he who rejected a deal that had the agreeement of House and Senate leaders. You have to wonder why he set the bar so high. He’ll face the flood of “President Capitulates!” headlines when it doesn’t come about. But the answer lies in the sole and consuming passion of this White House: reelection. Hence, the class warfare and the excuse-mongering.
Then it was House Speaker John Boehner’s turn. He touted his small-business background and made clear that ordinary people don’t get to simply borrow more and more. He reminded us that Obama wanted a clean debt bill, but the House insisted on a new way of doing business. Then he recapped the president’s intransigence:
What we told the president in January was this: the American people will not accept an increase in the debt limit without significant spending cuts and reforms.
And over the last six months, we’ve done our best to convince the president to partner with us to do something dramatic to change the fiscal trajectory of our country. . .something that will boost confidence in our economy, renew a measure of faith in our government, and help small businesses get back on track.
Last week, the House passed such a plan, and with bipartisan support. It’s called the ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance’ Act. It CUTS and CAPS government spending and paves the way for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which we believe is the best way to stop Washington from spending money it doesn’t have. Before we even passed the bill in the House, the President said he would veto it.
I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the president to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of Cut, Cap, & Balance in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law. I gave it my all.
Unfortunately, the president would not take yes for an answer. Even when we thought we might be close on an agreement, the president’s demands changed.
And he made the key point: “You see, there is no stalemate in Congress. The House has passed a bill to raise the debt limit with bipartisan support. And this week, while the Senate is struggling to pass a bill filled with phony accounting and Washington gimmicks, we will pass another bill — one that was developed with the support of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Senate. Obviously, I expect that bill can and will pass the Senate, and be sent to the President for his signature. If the President signs it, the ‘crisis’ atmosphere he has created will simply disappear.” (In other words, after Reid fails to get cloture on his phony cuts, the Senate will go back to the House bill that was actually a joint effort by Reid, Boehner and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. Boehner benefits from low or no expectations, and his solid, serious and optimistic address was impressive and effective. No wonder the White House was miffed that he had to share time with the Republican House leader.
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