Congress’s debt ceiling spilled into prime time last night as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner delivered speeches touting their competing plans. Both men, however, stuck to the same brand of politicking.
Political gloves came off last night when President Obama and John Boehner delivered prime time commentary on the deficit and debt ceiling debates. And, not surprisingly, Obama received top billing in the surprise television appearances. Both men, however, used the same script.
Obama began his speech by offering an elementary explanation of what’s happening — both parties over the past decade racked up bills and now we have to be able to pay them — and then explained the bipartisan plan he favors: one that cuts some entitlements, trims Medicare, raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans and cuts domestic spending.
Though the president admits it’s not an ideal plan for either political party, he insists enough Democrats and Republicans agree that it can be passed.
“The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a different approach — a cuts-only approach,” the president said, before launching into a predictably political attack.
“The House of Representatives will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach,” Obama declared. “And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way.”
This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth. It’s a dangerous game that we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now. Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.
Yet, that appears to be what’s happening, for Boehner offered equally politicized remarks last night, telling the American public that though he “gave [negotiations] his all,” “the president would not take yes for an answer.”
The House Speaker then delved into the fear-mongering that has become part-and-parcel of this ongoing discussion.
“This debate isn’t about President Obama and House Republicans; it isn’t about Congress and the White House,” said the House Speaker. “It’s about what’s standing between the American people and the future we seek for ourselves and our families.”
“There is no symptom of big government more menacing than our debt. Break its grip, and we begin to liberate our economy and our future,” the Republican concluded, being sure to hit at “big government,” the right wing’s arch nemesis.
Both Boehner and Obama are playing politics, trying to stoke fear and anxiety to score a political point, to win a PR battle that has stakes far larger than whether Democrats or Republicans win the next election.
Opinion and perception are indeed this debate’s biggest assets, and not just here at home. If international investors begin losing faith in our economy and dollar, then markets will drop, unleashing what economists suggest could become a worldwide economic “catastrophe,” another bit of fear-mongering.
That’s why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a lecture in Hong Kong, chose the most mollifying words possible: “The political wrangling in Washington is intense right now, but these kinds of debates have been a constant in our political life throughout the history of our republic.”
True to form, the nation’s top diplomat hoped to strike a soothing tone as she told her audience that she’s “confident that Congress will do the right thing and secure a deal on the debt ceiling and work with President Obama to take steps necessary to improve our long-term fiscal outlook.”
Clinton concluded, “Let me assure you we understand the stakes. We know how important this is for us and how important it is for you.”
While surely Obama and Boehner are privately doing what they think is best to keep our American economy in line, their public performances last night more closely resembled political bickering than actual leadership.