President Obama used his characteristically demagogic and dishonest press conference today to attack Republicans and insist that he will not negotiate over the impending expiration of America's debt limit. In response to a question from NBC's Chuck Todd, Obama declined to fully rule out unilateral action on hiking the debt ceiling; he lashed out at the GOP, warning that their (popular) demand of dollar-for-dollar spending cuts could damage the economy, prevent the country from paying its bills, and further erode "the full faith and credit" of the United States:
The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there’s a very simple solution to this: Congress authorizes us to pay our bills...If they want to keep this responsibility, then they need to go ahead and get it done. And, you know, there are no magic tricks here. There are no loopholes. There are no, you know, easy outs. This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending. They order me to spend. They tell me, you need to fund our Defense Department at such- and-such a level, you need to send out Social Security checks, you need to make sure that you are paying to care for our veterans. They lay all this out for me, and -- because they have the spending power. And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills. Separately, they also have to authorize a raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid. And so what Congress can’t do is tell me to spend X and then say, “But we’re not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills.” And I just want to repeat, because I think sometimes the American people understandably aren’t following all -- all the debates here in Washington. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a deadbeat nation. And the consequences of us not paying our bills, as I outlined in my opening statement, would be disastrous. And the -- you know the -- the notion that Republicans in -- in the House, or maybe some Republicans in the Senate would suggest that in order for us to get our way on our spending priorities, that we would risk the full faith and credit of the United States, that I think is not what the founders intended. That’s now how I think most Americans think our democracy should work.
(1) Those bullies in Congress "order" the poor, helpless president to spend all this money. It's their fault, you must understand. Unmentioned: Obama requests much of that spending -- and if he'd gotten his way, we'd be borrowing more money to finance even higher levels of spending, as outlined in his unanimously-rejected budgets. He also failed to note that today's elevated spending baseline was solidified in 2009 and 2010, when Republicans were small minorities in both the House and Senate. Perhaps Obama's greatest trick is projecting a studied detachment, as if he's merely presiding over the mismanagement and dysfunction of others. Nothing is ever his fault or problem. And it works.
(2) Based on his new rhetorical framing device, Obama himself voted for American "deadbeat" status as a freshman Senator in 2006. And I quote:
The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.
So in 2006, raising the debt ceiling was an indictment of Bush's disgraceful "leadership failure" and a damning indication that the US government "can't pay its own bills." In 2013, raising the debt ceiling is a moral imperative which must be accomplished in order to demonstrate "that America will pay its bills." And anyone who attempts to impede that outcome is recklessly endangering the economy, unlike the high-minded Barack Obama of 2006. The times. They change. So we'll continue to "pay our bills" by borrowing more money.
(3) "America is not a deadbeat nation." We currently borrow 40 cents out of every dollar spent, and the national debt is $16.4 trillion. (This president's 43 predecessors had amassed $10.6 trillion in debt through January 20, 2009). When unfunded liabilities and unpaid-for entitlement obligations are included in the calculation, the debt number skyrockets to dizzying heights. Keep that in mind as you process the following word salad from today's presser. We're "making progress," or something:
Step by step, we’ve made progress towards that goal. Over the past two years, I’ve signed into law about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts. Two weeks ago, I signed into law more than $600 billion in new revenue, by making sure the wealthiest Americans begin to pay their fair share. When you add the money that we’ll save in interest payments on the debt, altogether that adds up to a total of about $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the past two years, not counting the $400 billion already saved from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we’ve made progress. We are moving towards our ultimate goal of getting to a $4 trillion reduction.
Isn't that wonderful? We've "reduced deficits" by $2.5 trillion, even as we've run record-shattering trillion-dollar-plus deficits every single year of his presidency, while adding nearly $6 trillion to the gross national debt -- which has eclipsed the size of our entire GDP. But we're "moving towards" the goal! Obama later needled the GOP for harboring "suspicions" over (read: insufficient support for) beloved entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Philip Klein's pithy retort:
Yeah, conservatives have "suspicions" about entitlements -- about $63 trillion worth of suspicions.— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) January 14, 2013
(4) Obama implied that Republican attempts to extract concessions in exchange for a debt ceiling hike are extremely rare, if not virtually unprecedented. Not so. Both parties have routinely negotiated over the debt ceiling, dating back decades. I'm not entirely convinced that the debt ceiling crossroads is the most advantageous initiation point for Republicans' battle against out-of-control spending (I'll explore this point this week), but the idea that it's totally new and/or insane is false. Just ask Barack Obama, circa 2006 (see above). CBS News' Major Garrett called Obama out on this history in a tough question this afternoon, to which the president basically replied, "yeah, but that was different." Obama's posturing on the debt ceiling was okay, he argued, because the US wasn't in danger of a credit downgrade at the time. He also asserted that 2011's historic downgrade was the fault of Republicans who were exploiting the debt ceiling as a political leverage point. This is inaccurate revisionism. Standard and Poors dropped America's previously-spotless credit rating because of Washington's fundamental and escalating unseriousness about dealing with the actual problem. Our subsequent lack of budgets, increased debt, and debates over trillion dollar coins have vindicated S&P's evaluation.
(5) The president decried Washington's irresponsible pattern of governing by cliff and crisis:
We’ve got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis when there’s this clear path ahead of us that simply requires some discipline, some responsibility, and some compromise. That’s where we need to go. That’s how this needs to work.
Republicans have been calling for a restoration of normal order for years. It's Democrats in the Senate who have refused to even introduce a budget for nearly four years, leading to one countdown cliff after another. If the president truly wants this appalling ad hoc governance to end, he ought to have a terse conversation with Harry Reid and Patty Murray, not lecture Republicans.
(6) Obama renewed his tiresome calls for a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction, including additional "revenues." He painted the GOP as intransigent on the issue, even though they just agreed to go along with his ill-advised $600 billion tax hike on the rich (which included no new spending cuts). Also, when the two sides were locked in intense negotiations over increasing the debt limit last summer, Obama blew up the talks...despite significant revenue concessions from Republican leaders. Via ABC News:
Boehner held his own press conference after 7 p.m. Friday night and said the talks broke down because “The White House moved the goal posts.” Specifically, he said the two sides had agreed on an unspecified amount of revenue to be included in deficit reduction, achieved by broadening the number of Americans who pay taxes and lowering general tax rates. But he said President Obama on Thursday demanded another $400 billion in revenue, which Boehner said “was going to be nothing more than a tax hike on the American people.” It is clear, however, that Boehner and Cantor were ready to accept up to $800 billion in revenue measures as part of a grand bargain. But when that number jumped, in part because of pressure from Democrats, the talks broke down.
Obama is now resurrecting these revenues (which caused liberals some convenient amnesia just a few weeks ago). Republicans should hold firm that these potential revenues -- which would come through closing loopholes and eliminating deductions -- will only be placed back on the table if they're part of a broader tax reform package that includes lowering rates across the board. It's also worth mentioning that Congress and the president authorized a $2.1 trillion debt ceiling hike just 17 months ago. We've already blown through all of it, but playing a little political hardball to stem the insanity is somehow the height of irresponsibility. It's going to be a long four
UPDATE - Right on cue, the White House has informed the House Budget Committee that the president will not produce his FY 2014 budget on time. Obama has missed 80 percent of his statutory budget deadlines.