Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Obama Has Been Doing

Like Matt Yglesias, I spent a lot of time wondering why Obama was bending over backward to keep Republicans negotiating over raising the debt ceiling. I thought he should have said, "I expect Congress to raise the debt ceiling, because if they don't their constituents' Social Security checks aren't coming" and then refused even to hold a meeting about it.

But, see, Obama did not do that because he was not after an increase in the debt ceiling. He wanted to use the opportunity presented by Republican demands over the debt ceiling to enact a huge deficit reduction plan. What I thought he was only doing under Republican pressure was his plan all along. Yglesias:

I suspect many readers will say this just shows I’ve been slow on the uptake, but watching President Obama’s performance at yesterday’s press conference, I had a kind of gestalt shift in my perception of the situation. Suddenly it became clear that we’re not looking at an administration strategy to get an increase in the debt ceiling, with the negotiations over the long-term fiscal balance being a means to an end. We’re looking at an administration strategy to get a bipartisan deal over long-term fiscal balance. It’s the debt ceiling that’s a means to an end. And you can see that the key Democratic bargaining position here is to insist on revenue increases rather than to try to minimize spending cuts.

This is, certainly, a bold strategy. Rather than fighting the GOP’s effort to create a debt ceiling hostage crisis, Obama called their bluff. He’s willing to do huge amounts of deficit reduction, including giant spending cuts, but he’s not willing to resolve the crisis without some tax hikes. The victim has become the hostage taker. In an instrumental sense, it’s inspired, and of course has created the circumstances under which it might be possible for the administration to sell congressional Democrats on cuts they would otherwise never accept.

Alas, it seems that this won't work. But it certainly was an inspired move, and it makes it look once again like Obama is always thinking five moves ahead of anyone else in American politics.


Unknown said...

Actually, I think Obama's right here, and I doubt that, as Iglesias says, the prez is under the illusion that he can solve our fiscal problems for all time. I think in part he's doing it for all those who wonder if our political system is capable of reforming itself; he thinks yes.

FWIW, I don't see anything yet that shows his strategy "won't work"; from the beginning, I expected that the two sides would play chicken down to the wire. Actually, I'd be surprised if we had a final deal before August 1.

Personally, I think this is a moral issue. Our country actually asks very little of us; I like it like that, particularly where the matter of asking for military service is concerned. If we are not capable of taxing ourselves, perhaps we don't deserve self-government.

John said...

I share your moral feelings about a balanced budget, and I hope you are right about the potential of our system. But right now I am not feeling optimistic.