Obama Prepares For Stalemate

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JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 25, 2011

Obama Prepares For Stalemate

President Obama's speech was, in some ways, a reboot of the entire debate. He broadened the frame of the deficit issue so as to contextualize the trillion dollar deficit he inherited. He explained in detail the balanced agreement he seeks, which commands vastly greater support in the polls than the Republican approach, which he accurately describes as "cuts only." He isolated the Republican House -- which, unlike Senate Republicans, is unwilling to balance spending cuts with higher taxes.

In response, Boehner offered this rejoinder:

The president has often said we need a 'balanced' approach -- which in Washington means: we spend more... you pay more.

The implication is that Obama offered to increase taxes and to increase spending. It's utterly false -- indeed, Boehner twice tried to sell his fellow republicans on exactly this approach, and failed. The only way in which it's not balanced is that it relies far more heavily on spending cuts than have any previous bipartisan deficit plans:

 

In other words, Boehner recognizes that Americans overwhelmingly prefer a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to cuts-only, and his only recourse was to lie. It's a peril of defending a highly unpopular position.

I'm not really sure what Obama was trying to accomplish in his speech. I thought he would try to find some kind of lowest common denominator between the Reid and Boehner plans that would stand a chance of passing Congress. He didn't. Instead he appealed once again to the Grand Bargain. If Obama thinks Congress will pass something like that, he's nuts. The Senate might, but the House never, ever would.

The most rational explanation for Obama's speech is that he's positioning himself for failure. He's explaining his position so that when Congress fails to lift the debt ceiling, Americans will blame the Republicans and not him. Maybe in the meantime some small deal can arise. But I expect a week from now we'll be bracing for disaster.

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posted in: jonathan chait, washington, congress, senate

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