The President held a press conference yesterday, ratcheting up his rhetoric against Republicans on the issue of raising the debt ceiling. The President appeared to draw a line in the sand over Republican refusal to include any revenues in a prospective deficit cutting deal that would raise the debt ceiling. Obama raised several issues of note, hitting the Republicans for not being willing to employ a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction. He continually waived the issue of tax breaks for the owners of corporate jets in the face of Republicans, contrasting their willingness to cut programs for students and safety with their unwillingness to get rid of these types of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
The President mocked the work habits of the Congress, saying that he is in Washington working towards a deal on deficit reduction while Congress is frequently out of session. He seemed to be responding to the charges that he has not been “engaged” on this issue. Anytime you hit the work habits of Congress it has to be a winning argument. From Politico:
After three straight lopsided elections, Congress still can’t — or won’t — function.
Just 18 bills have become law through the first half of 2011, and 15 of those named a building after someone, temporarily extended expiring laws or appointed an official to the board of the Smithsonian Institution. Congress can’t decide what to do on critical issues like Libya, spending or the nation’s debt limit, and no compromise is in sight on a host of other issues.
The President comparing Congressional work habits to his daughters homework habits will not be a big hit with Speaker Boehner, but it appears to be working, as the calls are going out for Congress to stay in session until a deal is reached. A more certain methodology would be to take away Congressional pay until such time as a deal was reached. Probably would have a deal by next week.
The President is going to take some heat from his base upon the announcement of this deal, which will likely contain some deep program cuts, potentially as high as a trillion dollars. Any deal that contains, as the Republicans demand, only spending cuts with no elimination of “tax expenditures”, will create a firestorm within the Democratic Party. The President, I think rightly, points out that any deal must impose pain on both parties to the deal. As my post on Governor Chris Christie yesterday points out, rigid inflexibility during political negotiations simply leads to gridlock. Such inflexibility is designed for political purposes, and to potentially move the end results of negotiations closer to a desired result. But it can be a dangerous game, as any deal must garner votes in Congress. The continuing inflexibility of Republicans on the issue of minor modifications to the tax code that will produce some revenue to go with large program cuts will make it that much harder to get the votes for a final deal, which must be completed because it is vital to the American people. The President cannot be expected to hold his tongue forever as he is pilloried by Republicans. The President is showing flexibility, and rejecting absolutist positions put forward by his negotiating partners. The Republicans need to take a page out of the Governor Christie playbook and move this negotiation forward for the good of the American people.