On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oho) set the trap. On Wednesday the president walked right into it at a White House meeting with congressional leaders.
Boehner in his Tuesday speech had opened the door to getting something meaningful done this year — on entitlement reform, spending discipline and tax reform. He knows better than anyone that President Obama can’t make any deal and wants to run on his tax-the-rich and Republican-obstructionist themes. At least in part, the move was designed to smoke out the president.
Like clockwork, on Wednesday the president nixed any deal and came down on the side of spend and tax. You could almost hear the delight in a Boehner aide’s readout of what he called the “friendly” lunch meeting:
The President began the meeting by laying out some of his policy goals, including his “to-do list” for Congress. The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing other issues, including the next debt limit increase and the looming expiration of current tax rates. In a discussion of the debt limit, the Speaker — who has warned that the growing debt is hurting U.S. job creation — asked the President if he is proposing that Congress pass an increase that does not include any spending cuts to help reduce the deficit. The President said, “yes.” The Speaker told the President, “As long as I’m around here, I’m not going to allow a debt ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt.”
On the subject of taxes, the aide recapped: “The Speaker also asked the President for his plans to deal with the largest tax increase in American history, which will mean tax hikes on small businesses, and the devastating cuts poised to hit our military, both scheduled to take effect at the end of the year.” Boehner also raised the XL Pipeline and the “Fast and Furious” Justice Department probe.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office was more terse in its description of the meeting.
His office put out a statement that read:
In a cordial lunch meeting, Sen. McConnell pressed the President and the Democrat leadership on the need to produce a bill to prevent the student loan interest rate increase that can actually pass the Senate.
McConnell: “We all agreed that rates shouldn’t go up this year and that we need to resolve the differences and pass legislation together.”
Sen. McConnell noted in the meeting that the Senate passed bipartisan legislation over the past year when poison pills were removed and Republicans were included in the debate (some examples: JOBS Act, Veterans jobs, trade agreements, FAA reauthorization, highway bill, payroll tax holiday, patent reform). And he believes that there is time before the election for even more bipartisan accomplishments.
All of this, of course, will turn on who wins the Nov. 6 election. Those squawking about a threatened “shutdown” ignore a critical fact: All of the deals to address or kick over until next year — the debt ceiling, taxes and so on — will not occur until after the vote. The presidential election will decide how these issues are resolved. Mostly, this is about drawing clear lines. And boy, did the Republicans draw some stark ones.
The day was capped off by series of Senate votes on the budget. The New York Times reported: “Senate Republicans engineered the green-eyeshade activities, using an obscure provision in the 1974 Budget Act that gives any senator the right to bring a budget to a vote if none reaches the Senate floor by April 1. The aim was to highlight the Democratic majority’s failure for the third straight year to produce a budget blueprint — and to embarrass President Obama by bringing his budget to a vote.”
Obama’s budget went down 99-0. The Romney campaign responded: “President Obama is so unserious about the budget challenges facing our nation that his budget proposal has now been voted down unanimously in not only the House, but also the Democrat-controlled Senate. With more than five hundred members of Congress opposing his budget — and not a single one willing to support it — this President’s failures of leadership and fiscal responsibility are obvious to everyone. President Obama is clearly in over his head and incapable of leading the country. It is time to turn to Mitt Romney’s proven experience and leadership.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose tenacity in offering real entitlement reform helped shape the field of battle for 2012, remarked:
The budget votes today in the Democrat-controlled Senate reveal a clear choice of two futures: painful austerity from politicians who refuse to lead and a path to prosperity from solutions-oriented reformers. Not only does this mark the third year Senate Democrats have failed to put forward a budget, it also marks the second year in which they joined Republicans in unanimously rejecting the President’s budget. In the past two years – in the House and the Senate, the President’s budgets have received zero votes in favor and 610 votes against. It is no surprise that Democrats up for reelection want nothing to do with the President’s massive increases in spending, taxing and borrowing. The fact that no Senate Democrat has voted in favor of a single budget resolution on the Senate floor in over three years is among the most embarrassing spectacles in Washington.
In a way, Obama is cutting his own throat by stiffing Boehner. With the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and no entitlement reform on the horizon, businesses and investors will have no reason to spend, hire or do much of anything to generate economic activity for the balance of the year. His sloth will therefore likely make his economic record worse.
Senate Democrats should also be very nervous. They’ve done less than the president. What is the argument for reelecting them?
Meanwhile, Romney travels around the country brimming with proposals on everything from Medicare to energy to Social Security to regulatory reform. What’s Obama got?