Judging by his remarks on the debt ceiling last Wednesday at the Business Roundtable’s quarterly meeting in Washington, D.C.:
So I want to send a very clear message to people here: We are not going to play that game next year. If Congress in any way suggests that they’re going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation — which, by the way, we had never done in our history until we did it last year — I will not play that game.
He seems to think that demanding a higher credit limit constitutes a ‘negotiation’ and that Republicans’ refusal to acquiesce means they are responsible for tying things up, more so than the government is for hitting its borrowing limit within ever shorter intervals of time. That’s absurd on an abstract level, and it conflicts with the history of how we got from a (disturbingly) mundane debt ceiling increase request in summer of 2011 to the grand bargain discussions the two sides are having today. In fact, it was Republicans who initiated the cooperative process that has brought the country closer than it’s ever been to enacting a comprehensive solution to structural budget problems that will result in catastrophe if left alone. They essentially sat the President down after they resoundingly won the House of Representatives and he requested an extra trillion or so in borrowing authority, and said, ‘Hey, we need to talk. We can’t go on like this…’
In contrast, it’s the Democrats, led by Obama, who mocked the idea of dealing with the problem (spending and debt) and not just the symptom (insufficient credit to service the government’s past borrowing). And now, 16 months later, it’s Democrats who want to renege on agreed-upon spending cuts that were the result of the bipartisan Super Committee process, and, while they are at it, carve up (or ‘decouple’) the Bush tax cuts so that their apportionment finally matches the Democrats’ rhetoric on the issue. (Universal Bush tax cuts and a selective continuation of those lower rates by Obama will bring reality up to speed with longstanding ‘Bush tax hikes for the rich’ and ‘Obama tax cuts for the middle class’ talking points). The moniker ‘fiscal cliff’ is simply a way to lift up these cynical moves to something approaching patriotic duty.
In reality, Obama’s bizarre remark on ‘negotiation’ shows that continued White House unreasonableness after a mixed outcome in the November elections is the primary obstacle to a grand bargain, or indeed significant progress on any other big issue in the next four years. For members of Congress in both parties, remembering that is the only imperative.