Last night, President Obama took to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room to announce that he and Republican congressional leaders had reached an understanding on legislation that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for deep cuts to essential public services provided by the federal government.
The White House is trying to frame the deal as a responsible bipartisan agreement. They’re already distributing talking points exhorting its supposed virtues.
From our perspective, this deal is no deal at all. It’s capitulation.
What really just happened is that the Grand Old Party of Extortion has won another major victory over the President of the United States and the Democratic establishment in our nation’s capital, despite only having control of one house of Congress. Republicans took our nation’s fiscal health hostage by openly inviting a default. Instead of suffering the repercussions of taking such an irresponsible position, they are being rewarded.
Unfortunately, as the cliché goes, we’ve seen this movie before.
As Paul Krugman writes:
Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling.
Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.Did the president have any alternative this time around? Yes.
First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call.
The budget deficit is not the biggest obstacle to our prosperity. Lack of jobs and growth is. And the largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands.
The “deal” appears to include no revenue increases of any kind. It’s just cuts to services on top of more cuts to services.
The President says he will continue to advocate for a “balanced approach” to dealing with the deficit, but that’s an empty promise. If he couldn’t get repeal of a single tax loophole into this proposal, why should any of us think that new or restored revenue will be on the table in the future?
We’re not the only progressive organization that believes this deal is bad for America, bad for families, and bad for prospects of economic recovery.
“This deal will kill our economy and is an attack on middle-class families,” said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It asks nothing of the rich, will reduce middle-class jobs, and lines up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for cuts. Today, we’re putting in thousands of calls to Congress urging Democrats to keep their promise and oppose this awful bill.”
“The 14th Amendment is unambiguous, and President Obama should invoke it to pay our nation’s debt. Then Democrats should focus on jobs — not cuts — in order to grow our economy.”
“We surveyed our 5 million members and the vast majority oppose the deal because it unfairly asks seniors and the middle class to bear the burden of the debt deal,” MoveOn’s executive director Justin Reuben announced in a statement. “Congress should do what it should have done long ago and what it has done dozens of times before – pass a clean debt ceiling bill.”
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.
Instead, Congress is putting public services and public investments on the chopping block… with the President’s blessing.
Barack Obama and his administration ought to win an award for justifying mediocrity. They’re exceptionally good at it. Notice how, every time they go into negotiations, they go in with a weak hand. They start with what should be their final offer (presumably so they can appear reasonable), and as a result, they wind up embracing right wing policy directions.
It’s very depressing.
Does governing require compromise? Absolutely. Especially when there’s divided government. But capitulation is not compromise. And compromise for the wrong reasons is destructive, as George Lakoff explained in Thinking Points:
The authentic pragmatist realizes you can’t get everything you think is right, but you can get much or most of it through negotiation. The authentic pragmatist sticks to his or her values and works to satisfy them maximally. The inauthentic pragmatist, on the other hand, is willing to depart from his or her true values for the sake of politican gain.
There is all the difference in the world between the two as political leaders, though they may vote the same way. The authentic pragmatist is maintaining a consistent moral vision, while the inauthentic pragmatist is surrendering his or her moral vision.
As Withlin [Ronald Reagan’s pollster] discovered, authenticity matters in politics. When you surrender authenticity, you surrender your values, and you surrender trust.
Sadly, this is what Barack Obama is doing at this moment: Surrendering his moral vision. He’s even trying to persuade the rest of us to join him.
To Barack Obama, we say: Sorry, Mr. President.
We believe authenticity matters. As much as we like and respect you as a person, we believe you’re making a terrible mistake. We cannot support you in this.
You campaigned on a platform of change. “Change we can believe in” — that was your campaign slogan. You promised the people of this country that you would change politics in our nation’s capital. But instead, you’ve allowed it to change you. Your good intentions have been stymied by an opposition party that you don’t seem to understand. You obviously hear what they say about you, but the meaning of their words doesn’t seem to register, because you keep trying to reason with extremists who don’t believe in taking any prisoners.
You cannot do business with people who seek your destruction and the destruction of your friends and your allies. You cannot make concessions to a bully. The only way to stop bullying is to stand up to bullying.
You have to fight for what you believe in. People respect a fighter. If you would only fight, you would find people rallying around you.
If you started forcefully reframing the debate, if you began going on the offensive, if you began unequivocally defending the values of the people who elected you, the response would be electrifying. Overnight, there would be a change in this country. Dejected, apathetic people would start rising up.
You have the best bully pulpit a human can have. But you’re not using it to motivate your base or make the case for effective government based on progressive values. You are letting the right wing turn you into a 1970s-era Republican, when what this country sorely needs is an unabashed Democratic president.