[NOTE: This post has been UPDATED ... three times]
I continue to be amazed at the ability of President Obama to utter patent nonsense with a straight face. Does he not know it’s nonsense, or is he simply supremely confident of the gullibility of the American people?
Since he lives in an ideological bubble surrounded by those of his own persuasion and encounters people not on his payroll largely through exposure to a press that fawns on his every word, I suspect the latter. But I’m not sure. It’s beginning to look more and more like he may really be channeling Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, a possibility I have written about many times.
For example, consider (and try not to laugh) the one and only thing the president says must be included in any deal to extend the debt limit: getting the issue off the table until after his re-election campaign. As he explained Friday evening, “The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election, into 2013.”
Here, with Oscar-qualifying straight man style, was his explanation of why his “bottom line” had nothing to do with debt or deficit or taxes but rather with whether the debt extension would last until after the next election:
And the reason for it is we’ve now seen how difficult it is to get any kind of deal done. The economy is already weakened. And the notion that five or six or eight months from now we’ll be in a better position to try to solve this problem makes no sense.
In addition, if we can’t come up with a serious plan for actual deficit and debt reduction, and all we’re doing is extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months, then the probabilities of downgrading U.S. credit are increased, and that will be an additional cloud over the economy and make it more difficult for us and more difficult for businesses to create jobs that the American people so desperately need.
In order to believe the president’s justification for vetoing any extension of the debt ceiling that does not last until 2013, you must believe that “extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months,” allowing time for a more comprehensive “big deal,” would be worse than default or at least major financial crisis right now. And who could believe that, aside from New York Times columnists and editorial writers and those of similar distempers?
Treasury Secretary Geithner, echoing Obama’s Chauncey Gardiner-like chorus, also emphasized that raising the debt ceiling high enough to get through the next election is more important than anything else. “The most important thing is that we remove this threat of default from the country for the next 18 months,” he told CNN. “You want to take this out of politics.”
Why? Is there something more important to discuss in the next election than the amount of government spending and what to do about the deficit, i.e., the proper size and role of government?
Dumb question. It’s perfectly clear why Democrats would want to avoid that discussion. Do you think they would want “to take this out of politics” if they thought their position — Damn the debt and deficit! Full spending ahead! — were popular?
UPDATE [25 July]
Writing in the New York Post today, Charles Gasparino accuses the White House of purposefully trying to provoke a default, or at least blocking any possibility of a deal to extend the debt ceiling. He offers “two possibilities” by way of explanation:
One: They really mean it. Obama would rather stiff bondholders than cut the size of government. I find that hard to believe, even though he’s devoted his years in office to expanding government so dramatically.
Two: Obama’s crew loves chaos. Remember: These guys rode to victory in 2008 largely because of the financial collapse — and won with promises to lead a moderate economic course that put Americans back to work.
There’s no reason to think these reasons are mutually exclusive. This president has already demonstrated both that he likes to screw bond holders (think handing Chrysler over to the UAW and Fiat) and, as Gasparino argues, that he believes that he can blame any ensuing crisis on the Republicans.
Also this morning Jennifer Rubin, on her Washington Post blog, offers evidence that Obama’s primary concern is … Obama (and, to a lesser extend, Democrats):
A Republican aide e-mails me: “The Speaker, Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell all agreed on the general framework of a two-part plan. A short-term increase (with cuts greater than the increase), combined with a committee to find long-term savings before the rest of the increase would be considered. Sen. Reid took the bipartisan plan to the White House and the President said no.”
If this is accurate the president is playing with fire. By halting a bipartisan deal he imperils the country’s finances and can rightly be accused of putting partisanship above all else. The ONLY reason to reject a short-term, two-step deal embraced by both the House and Senate is to avoid another approval-killing face-off for President Obama before the election. Next to pulling troops out of Afghanistan to fit the election calendar, this is the most irresponsible and shameful move of his presidency.
Perhaps, but give him time; his presidency still has a year and a half to run.
And more: Stacy (“The Other”) McCain writes today:
Let’s be clear: President Obama has orchestrated this unnecessary drama for the specific political purpose of causing a crisis that he — with the willing assistance of the liberal media — hopes to blame on Republicans.
The accusation that Boehner is the obstacle to a “bipartisan compromise” is laughable. The GOP leadership very much wants a deal, but Obama and Harry Reid’s Democrat majority in the Senate refuse to play ball.
For two years, Obama, Reid and Nancy Pelosi acted as if they could spend infinite money with no regard whatsoever to the effects of deficit spending. Now — with Obama looking for something he can score a “win” against the GOP — suddenly they’re all about the balanced approach.
UPDATE III [Still 25 July]
Keith Hennessey, whom I’ve found to be one of the most perceptive and reliable commentator on these matters, also agrees that
the three key Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle reached a tentative agreement yesterday and the President blew it up.
Administration officials from the President on down continue to warn us of the grave consequences if Congress does not act before an August 2nd deadline. Last week the President increased his demands of Speaker Boehner on taxes, knowing that doing so would cause negotiations on a big deal to collapse. Yesterday the three key Congressional leaders tried to act on a bipartisan basis and the President stopped them.