Rich Wilkins nicely sums up the state of the politics on the debt ceiling fight:
“Let’s step up. Let’s do it,” the president said at a White House news conference between negotiating sessions with congressional leaders. “I’m prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done, and I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing if they mean what they say.”
Let me translate that. I’m more of a man of principle than them, they’re just nuts. I’ll go past halfway, and give them what they want, for a little of what I want, but they won’t even take that, because they’re a bunch of children, incapable of running this government. Basically, that’s how it got reported today too. The President says he’s willing to make a deal, they aren’t. Now he’ll play chicken with them and begin to probably walk back the terms a little more to his favor as the days go by. Eventually they will either negotiate out a deal, or they will look insane. Oh, and by the way, he’s also making the top Republican in the nation, Speaker Boehner, look incapable of managing his own chamber. Insult to injury.
Rich thinks this shows Obama is a good negotiator, but I’m not so sure. The President may well win the media narrative, but at what cost? I think Economics of Contempt has an important point that Obama is trying to scare Congressional Democrats into accepting a deficit deal that’s 100% spending cuts in exchange for taking Social Security and Medicare off the table. Would that be a win? Absolutely not. Do base Democratic voters care about the deficit at all? I don’t see any evidence that they do. There’s no political gain for the President or the economy in a deficit deal. Maybe accepting a right wing plan will make Obama look like “the adult in the room” to the 7% of Americans who are truly swing voters, but that certainly won’t help his party win more seats in Congress next year.
The whole idea that there should be policy concessions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling is completely insane, but Obama directly enabled this by endorsing the idea of a grand bargain from the beginning. It didn’t have to be this way, and it still doesn’t.
From the outset, Obama should have been threatening to cut Social Security checks and Medicare/Medicaid payments first. Starting today, he can say that the August Social Security checks don’t go out unless the Republicans raise the debt ceiling. That is, after all, what Pat Toomey is proposing. Toomey’s nutty enough to defend the immediate benefit cuts, but the vast majority of the Republican Party will knuckle under within a few days.