Tuesday, January 15, 2013

President Obama is NOT bluffing (updated)

A lot of political pundits are hedging about believing whether or not President Obama means it when he says he won't negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. They tend to point to all the times the President has negotiated in the past. The problem with that is that in all of those instances he has always said he was open to negotiation. He has never - not once - been this clear that he would not do so.

On this one, as Ezra Klein documented yesterday, he is taking a different position.
In recent weeks, Obama has been taking almost every opportunity to step in front of cameras and say, as clearly as possible, that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. On Dec. 5, he went to the Business Roundtable and said: “We are not going to play that game again next year. We’ve got to break that habit before it starts.”

On the 19th, he held a news conference where he was no less emphatic. “I’ve put forward a very clear principle: I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling.”

On Jan.1, he gave a statement on the fiscal cliff deal. “While I will negotiate over many things,” he said, “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills.”

On the 4th, he gave a radio address in which he repeated the message. “One thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they’ve already racked up,” he said. 
Then there was today’s news conference, which was almost solely devoted to the debt ceiling. “To even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible,” Obama said in his prepared remarks. “It’s absurd. As the speaker said two years ago, it would be, and I’m quoting Speaker Boehner now, ‘a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.’ “
As I've said several times before, President Obama has typically been open to compromise, but he doesn't bluff - that holds true in both foreign and domestic affairs. Its the foundation of his integrity.

Further evidence that he means what he says about not negotiating when it comes to raising the debt ceiling was provided over a month ago by David Corn. Describing President Obama's reaction to a possible short-term debt ceiling increase that was proposed by the Republicans in the summer of 2011, he says:
"He really means it," a senior administration official insists. And Obama's top aides have seen him in private display fervor regarding this issue. During a meeting with his senior aides in the middle of the prolonged and heated negotiations in the summer of 2011, Obama let them know that he believed the debt ceiling face-off was in part a fight to save his presidency and those of future chief executives...

Obama's aides empathized with him but explained that the president might have to yield on this to secure a deal that dodged a default. "I'm not doing it again," Obama said. "This is wrong."

Obama believed a constitutional principle was at stake: If the Republicans could threaten default to get their way on budget issues, it would distort the separation of powers. This was not what the framers of the Constitution intended, he believed. Moreover, it was embarrassing for the United States. He was determined to prevent this scenario from occurring again.

His aides could see that Obama would not bend. He was willing to go to the brink. Toward the end of that day's meeting with Hill leaders, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor raised the idea of a short-term extension, Obama angrily said, "I'm not going to do it. We're not putting the country through this again. Don't call my bluff."
(Emphasis mine)

Nope, the President is not going to blink in this crazy game of chicken the Republicans have concocted over raising the debt ceiling. I'd guess his opponents who've been in the room with him during past negotiations know that. Its time the rest of us caught on.

UPDATE: I just thought I should add that - being the conciliatory kind of guy he is - just a few weeks ago President Obama agreed to a two-month extension of the sequestered spending cuts, aligning them almost perfectly with the deadline for raising the debt ceiling.

The President has always suggested that he is open to negotiating a more reasonable alternative to deficit reduction when it comes to those cuts. So his hand is outstretched to Republicans to find a compromise that - along with the $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction that has been achieved - would pretty much get him to the $4 trillion that has always been his goal.

Even Speaker Boehner knows that's where the real action is.


  1. Wow. When historians consider this period in cool hindsight, it'll be obvious that the President of the United States was often "the only adult in the room".

  2. I think Obama's comment about not wanting to embarrass the United States is key. If there is a default, Obama is going to spend every moment both before and after making it clear that is the Republican House that caused it. If there is going to be an embarrassment, it will be an embarrassment for the GOP *and no one else*.

    You are right, Obama doesn't bluff. When he is this clear and consistent on what he is saying then people should really pay attention.

  3. I don't understand why he wouldn't negotiate. Raising the debt ceiling in exchange for more spending cuts and more tax increases would make sense.


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