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House Raises the Ceiling

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the debt ceiling deal "a victory for the American people." There are days when I feel sorry for Carney.

At Monday's press briefing, CBS reporter Norah O'Donnell challenged Carney's happy-face view of the deal when she observed that President Barack Obama had failed to push Republicans to accept a deal with $1 in tax increases for every $3 in spending cuts. O'Donnell continued, "You have Democrats saying, 'You gave them everything they wanted, and we got nothing.'"

Now that's not exactly true. As Carney had pointed out earlier, the Democrats won the item most precious -- at least to the White House. This deal is supposed to ensure that there will not be another debt ceiling showdown until after the 2012 election. Carney put it this way: "This agreement ensures that the debt ceiling will be extended through 2012, removing that cloud of uncertainty from the economy."

Democrats also are telling themselves that they have won the public relations war. After numerous press briefings and a prime-time speech, President Obama convinced the Democratic base that he was the only adult in the room and all would be well in the world if only tea party Republicans would compromise.

But if Obama won this PR war, why is his latest Gallup job approval rating down to 43 percent, with 50 percent disapproving?

The answer is clear: The smartest guy in the room couldn't buy a used car at above book value. As liberal commentators observe, when Republicans announced they would not agree to a debt ceiling increase without spending cuts, the president could have told them he would not negotiate with them. The administration could have stuck to its insistence on a "clean" vote.

Instead, Obama chose to push for something "grand" -- although he would not put his "grand" proposal in writing. He never sold his plan to Democrats in Congress. He did not take into account whether his "grand bargain" actually could pass in the GOP House.

When there was a glimmer of hope that House Speaker John Boehner might sign off on a deal, Obama sabotaged talks by heaping an additional $400 billion in new taxes on top of $800 billion in the mix.

When it became clear that the "grand bargain" was a dud, the Obama administration froze -- despite the president's frequent warnings about the consequences of not meeting his Treasury Department's Aug. 2 deadline. Last week, Obama could have brokered essentially the same deal that was before the Congress on Monday. This vote didn't have to come down to the wire.

The administration's biggest miscalculation, however, can be seen in its insistence on increasing taxes during an anemic recovery.

Obama should be focused on creating jobs and calming a climate of fear that has kept employers from hiring new workers. He clearly is not. The administration didn't even try to sell the notion that its tax increases would be vital in boosting the economy and creating good private-sector jobs. And the White House did not bother to propose smart tax reforms that might have made proposed tax increases palatable.

Instead, the White House has been very open about its true passion, partisan scorekeeping in a high-stakes game of Washington math.

If Democrats have to agree to spending cuts -- that still will put the country $7 trillion further in the hole over the next decade -- then Republicans have to give up something, too, or as the president said of the cuts-only plan last week, "it's not fair."

Thus, in an odd way, Carney was right. If the Senate passes the bipartisan debt ceiling package approved by the House Monday, it will be "a victory for the American people."

Despite a president more focused on partisan scorekeeping than Main Street, despite GOP purists prepared to risk America's credit rating in exchange for a bogus balanced budget amendment, Washington just might pass a good debt ceiling deal.

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