President Obama gave a press conference this morning on the debt ceiling talks. To summarize: He won’t tell us his specific position on any issue; he is willing to talk tough to his party on entitlement reforms but not taxes; he wants a big deal, but didn’t insist as he had in the past, that it must take us through the 2012 election; and we all need to work together. Did I mention he want us all to work together? You get the drift.
At a very fundamental level, persisting in a crucial negotiation without telling the American people what the White House position is with any precision on any issue is unseemly. There is no real means of determining what is going on and, consequently, of holding anyone accountable for the results or lack thereof. What is he willing to do? On what points is he challenging his party? He says to read the news. The press swoons — we got it right! But which reports are correct: the ones that say he backtracked on entitlement reform, or the ones that say he is larding up the deal with more taxes?
Don Stewart, communications director for Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell told me, “It’s disappointing that the President is unable to bring his own party around to the entitlement reform that he put on the table.” But then we don’t really know what exactly he put on the table.
Republicans on the Hill are rolling their eyes, if not fuming. As one aide put it, the notion that some spending cuts are fine but we must increase taxes in a struggling economy is “an intellectually indefensible position.” And, as many Republicans are reminding the media today, it was Obama in December of last year who opposed tax hikes in a recession precisely because it made zero economic sense.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has been suspicious of these talks from the get-go. Wesley Denton, DeMint’s spokesman had this reaction: “Every time the President says he wants a ‘bigger deal,’ we know he’s not offering bigger cuts, he’s saying he wants bigger tax hikes to pay for his big government agenda. He has not offered real examples of spending cuts he will agree to, but he’s more than willing to list the numerous taxes he wants to raise.” He continued, “We know from past grand bargains that the tax increases are immediate and the spending cuts never materialize. Americans won’t be fooled again on a ‘we’ll tax you now, cut spending later’ deal. On August 5th, we’ll hit the 14th anniversary of the last grand compromise, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which was supposed to reform Medicare spending and help stop our rising debt. Since that last debt reduction deal, we’ve gone from $5.3 trillion in debt to $14.3 trillion. No more empty gestures with phony grand bargains.” DeMint thinks the solution requires a balanced budget amendment “to force future Congresses to stop spending more than Washington brings in or our nation will go bankrupt.”
It would be nice for starters to get this president to stop spending. The rationale for tax hikes, as the president let on in the press conference, is simple: without them, he’d have to cut even more. And as much as he says he wants to challenge his own party, he really doesn’t. Higher taxes, more “investments,” bigger government. Sounds like he’s enabling more than challenging his own ranks.