Tonight, both President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner made separate speeches addressing the problem of the debt ceiling. With 8 days left, Washington and the world are on the edge of their seats for this nail biter to come to a close. The worst part: no one knows what the ending is going to be. Right now, I have a better chance at choosing which career I pursue than whether the debt ceiling will be increased.
Both speeches wreaked of a partisan stench that the president so clearly lambasted that no joke is necessary due to its ironic nature so gallantly portrayed in the speech. In his speech, the president tried to come off as the calm, collective peace keeper who was the most reasonable man in the room. He also gave a speech to his base that most progressives wished he would have given a month ago. Once again, he went after corporate jet owners, hedge fund managers, and rejected the GOP’s so called “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill (which failed in the senate) as just a plan for cuts. Instead, the president recommended a balanced approach of tax increases and spending cuts. He also endorsed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Plan to increase the debt ceiling, without serious cuts, and extend it past the 2012 election.
Boehner’s speech portrayed him as the realistic businessman with a bizarre combination of Jefferson Smith and a veteran politician rolled into one contradictory human being. He called for “Cut, Cap, and Balanced” to be the approach congress should take. The speaker also pledged no tax increases, again. His plan would raise the debt ceiling until the middle of 2012 and then add another vote on the debt ceiling then. His plan would also promise a “super committee” made up of representatives from both sides of the aisle to come together and propose a bipartisan plan for spending cuts. Finally, the speaker would push for a balanced budget amendment to voted on in both chambers in the winter or spring.
Beyond their obvious partisan flaws, the speeches were not great political calculations. First, Obama will not get any tax increases, maybe some loopholes or loss of subsidies, but that is about all he can hope for. Second, there will not be a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution passing anytime soon. Ratifying an amendment is tedious, arduous, and hasn’t been done in about 20 years. I’m surprised and disappointed the president did not attack this more. He is a real policy wonk at heart and listing reasons why a balanced budget amendment is not feasible for Washington is not hard to do. Finally, this new “super committee” is hardly going to help. We had the Simpson-Bowles plan, the Gang of Six plan, and details for deals made by the president and Boehner. All of them come out the same, they are a no go. The president is right in this respect. Real deficit reduction for political compromise requires both tax increases and spending cuts. All bipartisan plans offered these ideas and no one took them. Politicians like cutting the deficit as long as it cuts only what they want or gets revenue their way. In the end, there are only so many ways to cut the deficit and one more commission report yielding the same results won’t get us anywhere.
Both sides won points with their base and wanted the people to flood the congressional phone lines and email inboxes with disgruntled letters. Something tells me both sides see real negotiation as futile and have now resorted to P.R. wars. For the sake of the full faith and credit of the United States, I hope maybe tomorrow the kids will grow up and negotiate. Otherwise, prayer is about all we have left.
Photo Credit: Politico