(NNPA)—Democrats blew it. They control the White House and the Senate. Yet, it was the Republican-controlled House—which is itself increasingly controlled by Tea Party zealots—that defined the terms of deficit debate and provided us with another example of Democratic ineptness.
The last-minute deal between President Obama and congressional leaders amounted to, in the words of economist Paul Krugman, “raw extortion on the part of a party that, after all, controls one house of Congress.”
Writing in Monday’s New York Times, Krugman said the deficit deal amounts to “an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction—and if these recommendations aren’t accepted, there will be more spending cuts.”
Krugman argued, “Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to the raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.”
From the beginning, Republicans took control of the debate. The Government Accountability Office explains: “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962, including 18 times under Ronald Reagan. Until now, neither House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to lifting the debt ceiling.
Now that Barack Obama is president, they have made it a major issue. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, asserted that President Obama was seeking a blank check.
“This is a straight-up lie. Not the everyday, casual fudging that politicians do, but a straight up lie,” Adam Serwer wrote in the Washington Post. “This isn’t a perfect metaphor, but not raising the debt ceiling is more like refusing to pay your credit card bill than it is akin to asking for a blank check. Congress appropriates funds; if they don’t want Obama to spend more, it’s within Congress’s power to withhold that money.”
That wasn’t the only straight-up Republican lie.
The Republican mantra became, “We have a spending problem, not an income problem.” Actually, we have both. It’s true that federal spending this current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is expected to equal 24.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the second-highest percentage of GDP since 1945.
It is also true federal revenues are expected to be 14.8 percent of GDP this year, the second- lowest level since War II.
But the most conservative of conservatives prefer to ignore that reality. Letting the Bush taxes expire would slash the deficit in half, but that’s an item that Republicans insisted was off the negotiating table.
In his July 22 press conference, Obama acknowledged he had been exceedingly generous in his overtures to Republicans.
“Essentially, what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense,” Obama said. “We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.”
Here’s the kicker: “We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six [a panel Democratic and Republican lawmakers]. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.”
Boehner responded to Obama’s gesture by ending the negotiations and refusing to return Obama’s phone calls. Therein lies the difference between Obama and Boehner. The latter listens to his base and then moves quickly in its direction. Obama, on the other hand, repeatedly boasts that he is willing to ignore the wishes of his base when attempting to strike a deal with House conservatives.
“The president got the only thing that was nonnegotiable from his perspective: a big enough increase in the debt limit to ensure he doesn’t have a repeat of this fiasco during the 2012 campaign, which would make him look fatally weak,” wrote Matt Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
In the wake of the deficit deal, Obama has tried to put a happy face on the ugly deal. The administration has put out a “fact sheet” that claims the agreement, “ Stays true to the President’s commitment to shared sacrifice by preventing the middle class, seniors and those who are most vulnerable from shouldering the burden of deficit reduction. The President did not agree to any entitlement reforms outside of the context of a bipartisan committee process where tax reform will be on the table and the President will insist on shared sacrifice from the most well-off and those with the most indefensible tax breaks.”
We’ve heard similar talk for the past two years. And the end result has been the president giving in to political extortion.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)