President Obama offered remarks at the White House late this morning, addressing the deal that ended a two-week partial government shutdown, and averted a technical default and potential credit downgrade. The compromise merely punted both budget-related issues into early 2014, and gave Republicans virtually no concessions. Harry Reid set this trap in 2010, then sprung it on a divided opposition. GOP disunity undercut its leadership's ability to exert the party's minimal leverage to marginally improve the bargain. This chapter is now closed, and Jonah Goldberg's reflection on "the art of the possible" is a worthwhile read as Republicans contemplate what comes next. But today was the president's moment. Dan summarized his comments on the homepage, and the full transcript can be viewed HERE. Partial video:
A few thoughts:
(1) As far as this president's speeches go, this one was relatively conciliatory and productive.
(2) Obama spent quite a lot of time detailing how damaging and destructive the partial shutdown was to the national economy. Some of his analysis was real, some of it was hyperbolic. But much of the pain the public felt was deliberately and unnecessarily engineered by his administration. Other elements of this "shutdown theater" were shockingly irresponsible. But whenever the president rehearses the 'parade of awfuls' that befell the country due to the temporary shutdown, remember this: Under orders from Harry Reid, Obama refused to negotiate with Republicans to prevent the shutdown from beginning, and threatened to veto virtually every single Republican bill that would have ended the standoff or mitigated its impact. He bears much responsibility for what just happened. He's the President of the United States, not a helpless bystander who floats above the DC morass. He is DC
(3) The mini lecture about civility and name-calling was simply precious. During the showdown, a top Obama spokesman called Republicans suicide bombers, arsonists and kidnappers...in the span of a single interview. The invective hurled at Republicans by Democrats far outweighed anything elected Republicans said about Democrats. Indeed, and of course, the nastiest GOP slurs were directed at one another.
(4) Amidst the many denunciations of "dysfunction," there was no mention of Obamacare. At all -- even though that's what this whole fight was supposed to be about, at least in theory. There's a reason for that: The president's signature accomplishment has been a comprehensive failure. Obama used this speech to extol the virtues of big government, yet conveniently ignored this giant wheezing elephant in the room. Is the White House quietly considering a blanket delay of the law? They may end up with no choice -- especially now that all the breathless shutdown/default coverage will shift over to the Obamacare catastrophe:
"A complete disaster."
(5) The coming budget conference committee is long overdue. Obama bemoans the exhausting governance-by-crisis loop in which Washington has become stuck. This frustrating pattern is primarily Democrats' fault. They intentionally chose not to even attempt to pass a budget for more than three years, as part of a political strategy. Once they finally passed one (Republicans forced them to by threatening Congressional pay if a budget were not produced), it was predictably awful. It would raise taxes by more than $1 trillion, achieve almost no meaningful reforms, and never, ever balance -- exactly like the president's version. As bad as it was, however, it doesn't excuse Republicans declining to go to conference under "regular order" -- which they'd correctly been demanding for years. That was cynical and wrong. At last, the normal conference process will occur, with both sides trying to reconcile differences between two very different blueprints. One more point: Obama is fond of saying that he's "cut the deficit in half." What he never mentions is that he ran four-straight trillion-dollar-plus deficits. This year -- thanks in large part to mandatory spending reductions Republicans forced in previous negotiations -- the United States will "only" spend between $650 and $759 billion more than it takes in. President Bush added over $4 trillion to the national debt over eight years; Obama's already in the neighborhood of $6 trillion. He has zero credibility on deficits and debt.
(6) Republicans must not take Obama's bait on immigration reform. I'm in favor of reform, even though I opposed the Senate bill the president touted today. It's an important issue that must be dealt with equitably and fairly. But Obama is trying to drag a new shiny object into the spotlight to deflect attention from his big Obamacare problem. The way forward on immigration reform is divisive within the GOP, and Obama knows this. Resist the temptation to go there right now. The messaging isn't hard: "This is a crucial issue that affects millions of people across the country, and we're committed to fixing our broken immigration system in a bipartisan manner. But taking up another giant, comprehensive Washington so-called 'solution' while the president's last giant comprehensive Washington solution on healthcare is collapsing before our eyes would be irresponsible. We will not rush through another massive, incomprehensible bill." In this case, a punt is acceptable. Eye on the ball.