Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2011

How the SuperCommittee Might Work to GOP Advantage

The budget deal requires an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts to be designed by a “super-committee of legislators” who will propose painful recommendations—and if those recommendations aren’t accepted by both Houses, there will be automatic cuts to Defense and Medicare. The idea here is that Republicans will be restrained from avoiding tough choices by the supercommittee by the prospect of big defense cuts, while Democrats will feel the same way about Medicare.

Oh? So, going into an extremely nerve-wracking election season, only Republicans will care about defense spending? Defense spending has been all but sacrosanct for the past decade, and there’s a reason for that: the public loves the military, it’s the most popular institution in America, we’re fighting two wars, and whatever the military wants it gets. So Democrats don’t mind handing potential rivals an issue relating to their irresponsibility toward our military?

Oh, yes, they sure do and they sure will.

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The budget deal requires an additional $1.5 trillion in spending cuts to be designed by a “super-committee of legislators” who will propose painful recommendations—and if those recommendations aren’t accepted by both Houses, there will be automatic cuts to Defense and Medicare. The idea here is that Republicans will be restrained from avoiding tough choices by the supercommittee by the prospect of big defense cuts, while Democrats will feel the same way about Medicare.

Oh? So, going into an extremely nerve-wracking election season, only Republicans will care about defense spending? Defense spending has been all but sacrosanct for the past decade, and there’s a reason for that: the public loves the military, it’s the most popular institution in America, we’re fighting two wars, and whatever the military wants it gets. So Democrats don’t mind handing potential rivals an issue relating to their irresponsibility toward our military?

Oh, yes, they sure do and they sure will.

Similarly, it’s one thing for Republicans to redesign Medicare to make it more affordable; not even a conservative Republican politician wants to be held accountable for draconian across-the-board cuts.

Tonight, Barack Obama all but guaranteed the November showdown would involve tax increases (his “balanced” approach). At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner says changes in how the budget is calculated (the “baseline”) makes such tax hikes almost impossible.

But again, let’s look at this practically. Democrats actually want to vote for tax increases going into an election year? The leading Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, certainly didn’t want that even now for members of his caucus, 15 months before the election.

So, in the final analysis, the logic of the “trigger” in the showdown depends on Democrats not minding defense cuts and desiring tax hikes. They won’t want either and will therefore be pushed in the Republican direction in the negotiations.

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Bachmann Stumbles, Perry Closes in on Romney in Rasmussen Poll

How’s this for an impressive feat – without even entering the GOP presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry has somehow managed to position himself as one of the Republican frontrunners, according to the latest Rasmussen poll. Mitt Romney is still leading the presidential field at 22 percent in the latest poll of likely Republican voters, but Gov. Rick Perry is already nipping at his heels at 18 percent.

Much of this has to do with the fact that Romney’s support has dropped 11 points since Rasmussen’s post-debate poll in mid-July. Bachmann had come in second in that survey, but now she slightly trails Perry at 16 percent.

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How’s this for an impressive feat – without even entering the GOP presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry has somehow managed to position himself as one of the Republican frontrunners, according to the latest Rasmussen poll. Mitt Romney is still leading the presidential field at 22 percent in the latest poll of likely Republican voters, but Gov. Rick Perry is already nipping at his heels at 18 percent.

Much of this has to do with the fact that Romney’s support has dropped 11 points since Rasmussen’s post-debate poll in mid-July. Bachmann had come in second in that survey, but now she slightly trails Perry at 16 percent.

Another indication Bachmann’s momentum might be subsiding a bit: Perry also beats her among self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, 28 percent to 22 percent — the one demographic where Bachmann has been expected to maintain an edge.

In fact, while Perry is considered by many to be an “establishment” candidate, his potential entrance in the race appears to pose more of a risk to Bachmann than Romney. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, Romney still surpasses Perry, 29 percent to 13 percent.

The poll also showed Tim Pawlenty’s valiant attempts to keep his head above water have had little impact on Republican voters so far. The self-proclaimed “comeback kid” actually cut his support in half since Rasmussen’s June poll, pulling in a paltry 3 percent. Making matters worse: he’s even polling behind Newt Gingrich’s dead-in-the-water campaign (6 percent) and Herman Cain (9 percent), who probably has more of a chance at winning the presidential nomination in the Islamic Republic of Iran than he does in the Republican Party. At least Pawlenty can take solace in the fact he’s still leading the luckless Jon Huntsman, albeit by just one percentage point.

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Satan Sandwiches and House Democrats

A fantastic bit of rhetoric from an enraged leftist Democrat in the House, responding to the outlines of the budget deal: Emanuel Cleaver, a pastor from Missouri, described it as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.” And indeed it is. There are no good options for liberal/Left Democrats in the House. If they vote against the bill en masse, they will make Obama look as though he has betrayed his own core principles, and indeed, they may lead to the deal’s collapse if a few more Republicans than agreed to the Boehner bill yesterday decide to vote no. Should that happen, they will destroy the Obama presidency. But if they agree, they are eating that sandwich. Tactically and strategically, this is a political disaster for the Democrats. That won’t mean much to the Tea Partiers in the House, whose opposition to the bill is entirely conviction-driven. But to the extent that a politician’s heart beats within a Tea Partier’s breast, that politician should be able to see the practical benefits to him and his party here.

A fantastic bit of rhetoric from an enraged leftist Democrat in the House, responding to the outlines of the budget deal: Emanuel Cleaver, a pastor from Missouri, described it as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.” And indeed it is. There are no good options for liberal/Left Democrats in the House. If they vote against the bill en masse, they will make Obama look as though he has betrayed his own core principles, and indeed, they may lead to the deal’s collapse if a few more Republicans than agreed to the Boehner bill yesterday decide to vote no. Should that happen, they will destroy the Obama presidency. But if they agree, they are eating that sandwich. Tactically and strategically, this is a political disaster for the Democrats. That won’t mean much to the Tea Partiers in the House, whose opposition to the bill is entirely conviction-driven. But to the extent that a politician’s heart beats within a Tea Partier’s breast, that politician should be able to see the practical benefits to him and his party here.

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Triggering Defense Cuts

Defense spending may be marginally safer now that Sen. Harry Reid’s debt-ceiling plan – which included up to $860 billion in defense cuts – has been taken off the table. But the new proposal being kicked around by Republicans and Democrats reportedly contains a measure that could jeopardize our national security at a later date. By including a “trigger” mechanism that will kick off across-the-board spending cuts if (when?) both parties are unable to agree on reductions, Congress is opening defense up to some serious budget-slashing. Here’s John Bolton’s take:

Every indication is that the debt ceiling negotiations are leaving the defense budget in grave jeopardy. By exposing critical defense programs to disproportionate cuts as part of the “trigger mechanism,” there is a clear risk that key defense programs will be hollowed out.

While the trigger mechanism comes into play only if the congressional negotiators fail to reach agreement on the second phase of spending cuts, it verges on catastrophe to take such a national security risk.

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Defense spending may be marginally safer now that Sen. Harry Reid’s debt-ceiling plan – which included up to $860 billion in defense cuts – has been taken off the table. But the new proposal being kicked around by Republicans and Democrats reportedly contains a measure that could jeopardize our national security at a later date. By including a “trigger” mechanism that will kick off across-the-board spending cuts if (when?) both parties are unable to agree on reductions, Congress is opening defense up to some serious budget-slashing. Here’s John Bolton’s take:

Every indication is that the debt ceiling negotiations are leaving the defense budget in grave jeopardy. By exposing critical defense programs to disproportionate cuts as part of the “trigger mechanism,” there is a clear risk that key defense programs will be hollowed out.

While the trigger mechanism comes into play only if the congressional negotiators fail to reach agreement on the second phase of spending cuts, it verges on catastrophe to take such a national security risk.

Our military has already been asked to make some painful sacrifices in the name of deficit reduction. Obama’s initial FY11 projections called for $6.7 trillion in defense spending during the next 10 years. That’s been reduced to $6.2 trillion (the FY12 appropriations projection), as the military has been fighting three wars and struggled to modernize and replenish equipment.

We don’t yet know the details of the across-the-board cuts that would be triggered if Republicans and Democrats are unable to agree on reductions, but we do know Obama’s recent request for the military to cut $400 billion during the next 12 years was daunting enough for national security officials. Republicans and pro-defense Democrats will need to hold tough on this issue — when bipartisan groups like the Gang of Six have called for $890 billion in defense cuts, there’s a chance military spending could be on the chopping block regardless of whether the trigger comes into play.

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“Trigger” Could Mean Up to $750 Billion in Defense Cuts?

The “triggers” in the latest debt ceiling deal have mostly been agreed upon, but ABC’s Jake Tapper reports on two items apparently still being hashed out:

And the debt ceiling will be raised by $2.4 trillion in two tranches: $900 billion immediately, and the debt ceiling will be raised by an additional $1.5 trillion next year – either through passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which is unlikely, or with Congress voting its disapproval.

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The “triggers” in the latest debt ceiling deal have mostly been agreed upon, but ABC’s Jake Tapper reports on two items apparently still being hashed out:

And the debt ceiling will be raised by $2.4 trillion in two tranches: $900 billion immediately, and the debt ceiling will be raised by an additional $1.5 trillion next year – either through passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which is unlikely, or with Congress voting its disapproval.

Two items still being negotiated:

1)    The exact ratio of Pentagon to non-Pentagon cuts in the trigger – Democrats want 50 percent from the Pentagon, Republicans want less;

2)    Democrats want to exempt programs for the poor from the cuts.

So, in the event Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on the $1.5 trillion in reductions next year, that could mean up to $750 billion of the defense budget will be slashed automatically — which goes well beyond the reductions proposed by President Obama, and would seriously undermine our national security. Considering defense spending accounts for a much lower percentage of the deficit than entitlements, this is an outrageously disproportionate reduction. And if Democrats are also insisting programs like Medicaid need to be taken off the table, then that means other programs will have to shoulder more of the burden.

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Reid Loses Big in Debt Ceiling Debate

After all of Reid’s puffery that his plan was the only one that could get through both houses of Congress, the Democratic leader suffered an embarrassing blow today when his (recrafted) proposal flopped in the Senate:

The vote, initially planned for late Saturday, ultimately proved inconsequential, with leaders working to agree on terms of a new plan. The Senate could return to vote on it Sunday evening if an agreement is reached.

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After all of Reid’s puffery that his plan was the only one that could get through both houses of Congress, the Democratic leader suffered an embarrassing blow today when his (recrafted) proposal flopped in the Senate:

The vote, initially planned for late Saturday, ultimately proved inconsequential, with leaders working to agree on terms of a new plan. The Senate could return to vote on it Sunday evening if an agreement is reached.

Rep. John Boehner was supposed to be the loser of the debt ceiling debate, the one who was too weak to get his unruly members in line on his plan. Instead, as Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard, Boehner’s last-minute maneuvering unified the Republicans and ultimately vindicated the House speaker:

Democrats, liberals, the media, rent-seeking corporate heads, an untold number of interest groups, and the permanent Washington establishment loathe the budget amendment. But it’s extraordinarily popular with the public. And that was important for Boehner’s purpose. It was a tranquilizer for jittery Republicans. They could boast of insisting it be in the bill, thus offsetting their vote for raising the debt limit. It was a clever trade-off and it worked. Boehner got the last 10 votes he needed.

Adding insult to injury, Reid appears to have been pushed to the side as Sen. Mitch McConnell and the White House negotiate a last-minute plan. With just control of the House, Republicans have managed to seize the reins on the debate. Tea Partiers might grumble about compromising, but that pales in comparison with how furious progressives are likely to be with the Democratic Senate leader.

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When Metaphors Attack

Tom Friedman’s favorite model train set suffered a tragic disaster a week ago, when a carriage from China’s high-speed rail system leapt over the side of a bridge, killing 40 people and injuring almost 200. China fetishists like Friedman view the fast and flashy Chinese infrastructure boom as a literal model for the U.S. Our trains are slow and need new paint, you see, and that means China is better positioned to excel in some presumably train-obsessed future. Or something like that.

The thing is, Barack Obama has bought into this line. When he talks about nation building at home, he’s referring to the kind of countrywide well-being and prosperity that only a Friedmanesque rail-dominated utopia can deliver. But, as a well-known anchor on China’s CCTV noted, there’s a problem here:

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Tom Friedman’s favorite model train set suffered a tragic disaster a week ago, when a carriage from China’s high-speed rail system leapt over the side of a bridge, killing 40 people and injuring almost 200. China fetishists like Friedman view the fast and flashy Chinese infrastructure boom as a literal model for the U.S. Our trains are slow and need new paint, you see, and that means China is better positioned to excel in some presumably train-obsessed future. Or something like that.

The thing is, Barack Obama has bought into this line. When he talks about nation building at home, he’s referring to the kind of countrywide well-being and prosperity that only a Friedmanesque rail-dominated utopia can deliver. But, as a well-known anchor on China’s CCTV noted, there’s a problem here:

The speed of China’s development at the moment is like a high-speed train—it’s the envy of the whole world—but while satisfying our need for speed, we might be forsaking many things. Can we drink a glass of milk without worrying? Can we live in a house that won’t collapse? Can we drive along a street in a big city without it caving in? Can we ride a train that arrives safely? And if there’s a big train accident, can we be sure that the engine won’t be buried? In short, can we have a basic sense of security necessary for people’s happiness?

When Friedman employs Chinese high-speed rail as a catch-all metaphor for what China is really about, he’s more accurate than he knows. The system is unsafe, costly, and thoroughly beset by corruption. According to the Wall Street Journal, last week’s accident sparked an explosion of public discontent. The medium of choice for these complaints? That would be an American technological innovation—the Internet. “The new technology has fundamentally changed the relationship between China’s government and the governed. …Internet users are aware that issues like food safety problems, land-use abuses and corruption are pervasive.”  Apparently, the Chinese people are angry the Railway Ministry swept away evidence of the accident within 24 hours of its occurrence. Doubtless, Friedman will find such efficient cleanup another example of China’s edge over the U.S.

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Lebanese Cabinet Minister: Obama Won’t Sanction Hezbollah-Controlled Lebanon

Salim Karam, who is from the Hezbollah-allied Marada party and is the minister of state in Lebanon’s new Hezbollah-controlled government, doesn’t think the White House has the will to do it:

State Minister Salim Karam said in an interview published on Saturday that he does not believe the U.S. will sanction Lebanon. “We are not afraid [of sanctions], and we do not think that we are targeted by anything of that kind because the U.S. distributes their sanctions [everywhere] but has not put Lebanon itself on the black list,” he told Kuwaiti newspaper As-Seyyasah.

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Salim Karam, who is from the Hezbollah-allied Marada party and is the minister of state in Lebanon’s new Hezbollah-controlled government, doesn’t think the White House has the will to do it:

State Minister Salim Karam said in an interview published on Saturday that he does not believe the U.S. will sanction Lebanon. “We are not afraid [of sanctions], and we do not think that we are targeted by anything of that kind because the U.S. distributes their sanctions [everywhere] but has not put Lebanon itself on the black list,” he told Kuwaiti newspaper As-Seyyasah.

He also asked why people are insisting the new government will serve foreign (read: Iranian) interests, because how can anyone know what’s in the future? It’s apparently an inscrutable blur, far beyond the horizon of human scrutiny. Never mind that as recently as June 2011 Nasrallah was venerating Khamenei at Beirut conferences with titles like, “Convention of Renovation and Jurisprudence of Imam Khamenei’s Intellect,” and that the modestly named Party of God permits the Supreme Leader total sway over Hezbollah’s decision-making process in Lebanon.

In fairness – while Karam’s “O, that a man might know the end of this day’s business” posturing is teeth-gratingly pedantic – he’s probably right about the Obama administration’s actual policy. The U.S. has given Lebanon more than $700 million in security assistance since 2006, a policy that even amateur bloggers predicted at the time would end with Hezbollah “taking over the government and thus gaining control electorally of the newly modernized Lebanese army.”

Hezbollah having duly seized power, the Obama administration is reportedly searching for ways to “still do business” with Lebanese government officials who are Hezbollah stooges but not Hezbollah members. We’re even supporting the Hezbollah government in their post-hoc self-declared maritime “dispute” with Israel, functionally rewarding naked Iranian-backed aggression. Even assuming there are cuts in security assistance – and State seems to be pushing for nudge-wink games about certification that would largely avoid cuts – it certainly doesn’t look like a robust sanctions regime is in the works.

That’s even though we know – thanks to leaked documents from Wikileaks and the LulzSec hacker collective, respectively – that U.S. officials are aware of Hezbollah infiltration in Chile and in the Southwest United States. There are also those just unsealed drug charges in Manhattan. Hezbollah isn’t so much at our shores as inside the country.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s most notorious Christian fig leaf is already promising to dismantle U.S. intelligence assets in Lebanon, a promise that has particularly dark resonances given Hezbollah’s history of kidnapping American officials and slowly torturing to death over the course of years. The training and equipment the Lebanese government uses for counter-intelligence, by the by, comes from U.S. security assistance. It was long ago already turned against Israel’s efforts to monitor Hezbollah, which doesn’t make much sense because we were providing security assistance so the Lebanese Armed Forces could counterbalance Hezbollah, but why quibble about details?

Maybe everything will work out, and it’ll turn out Hezbollah doesn’t want power after all. It’s true the new government was described as “a well-prepared coup implemented by Hezbollah,” and Hezbollah-linked ministers completely dominate the cabinet. But as the New York Times took pains to headline, the new government is merely “influenced” by Hezbollah. You never know!

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House Republicans Find Their Voices in Defense of Defense Budget

It’s good to hear House Republicans finding their voices in defense of the defense budget. As the weeklystandard.com notes, leading House figures including Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Reps. Randy Forbes and Allen West held a press conference to denounce as “incredible” and “unconscionable” (in West’s words) the sweeping defense budget cuts proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid–cuts that would go double the already indefensible $400 billion in cuts pushed by President Obama.

West, a former army lieutenant colonel and Iraq War vet, noted on a recent visit with the troops, “I heard some things that really sent a chill down my spine…. Commanders told me that we’re starting to have to budget toilet paper into the barracks.” In other words, the military is already facing a budget crunch; further cuts will exacerbate the situation and make it impossible to carry out the armed forces’ vital missions.

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It’s good to hear House Republicans finding their voices in defense of the defense budget. As the weeklystandard.com notes, leading House figures including Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Reps. Randy Forbes and Allen West held a press conference to denounce as “incredible” and “unconscionable” (in West’s words) the sweeping defense budget cuts proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid–cuts that would go double the already indefensible $400 billion in cuts pushed by President Obama.

West, a former army lieutenant colonel and Iraq War vet, noted on a recent visit with the troops, “I heard some things that really sent a chill down my spine…. Commanders told me that we’re starting to have to budget toilet paper into the barracks.” In other words, the military is already facing a budget crunch; further cuts will exacerbate the situation and make it impossible to carry out the armed forces’ vital missions.

I only hope Republicans will keep that perspective in mind as they deal with further budget cuts on the horizon. With a debt-ceiling package now seemingly in the last stages of negotiation (although things could always come undone), Congress faces the prospect of massive cuts in the very near future. National Journal reports the current agreement being ironed out would call for $2.8 trillion in budget cuts during the next decade–$1 billion immediately in discretionary spending cuts and another $1.8 billion by the fall as agreed to by a “super committee.” If that “super committee” doesn’t reach agreement, that would trigger automatic cuts that could include defense spending and Medicare. Defense spending is already being reduced; there will be a temptation to make those cuts much deeper so as to hit arbitrary budget targets, and damn the consequences.

That would be a big mistake, for as Gen. Martin Dempsey, the nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned the Senate,  it would be “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk” to cut defense by $800 billion as envisioned by Harry Reid. While the Reid bill appears dead for the time being, cuts of those levels could still be revived–unless Republicans hold firm.

 

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Containment, Rollback, and the Debt Compromise

As of now—Sunday morning—word is there’s a deal between the White House and Republicans on a deal to raise the debt ceiling. No tax increases. $1 trillion in immediate budget cuts. A required $1.5 trillion in cuts by November as designed by a bipartisan committee or (if the House and Senate do not agree on them) automatic cuts to Medicare (to scare Democrats) and Defense (to scare Republicans).

If the details are true, and the deal holds, it’s an astonishing achievement for the Right—the most significant conceptual shift in American politics since Bill Clinton announced his support for ending welfare in 1996. Without question, there are elements on the Right that will not see it this way—that will say the deal is a sellout, that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are craven, they are enablers, they are carrying Obama’s water. I’d like to suggest a political analogy from the past that might help explain why they are wrong and why they are being unjust to those who support a deal.

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As of now—Sunday morning—word is there’s a deal between the White House and Republicans on a deal to raise the debt ceiling. No tax increases. $1 trillion in immediate budget cuts. A required $1.5 trillion in cuts by November as designed by a bipartisan committee or (if the House and Senate do not agree on them) automatic cuts to Medicare (to scare Democrats) and Defense (to scare Republicans).

If the details are true, and the deal holds, it’s an astonishing achievement for the Right—the most significant conceptual shift in American politics since Bill Clinton announced his support for ending welfare in 1996. Without question, there are elements on the Right that will not see it this way—that will say the deal is a sellout, that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are craven, they are enablers, they are carrying Obama’s water. I’d like to suggest a political analogy from the past that might help explain why they are wrong and why they are being unjust to those who support a deal.

In the wake of the effective Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe after the second world war, the fall of China to Mao, and North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, American anti-Communism split into two camps. One camp actively advocated what was called “rollback”—the application of military force to force the Soviets and their clients to retreat from the countries they had overrun. The other camp supported the doctrine of “containment,” which argued for quarantining Communism within the countries that had fallen under Soviet domination and remaining in a state of cold war with the Soviets and their proxies.

Both rollback and containment had as their goal the defeat of the Soviet Union and world Communism. But the strategies were different. The rollbackers said the peril was so imminent the failure to effect the change immediately would lead to the inevitably victory of the Communists. The containment advocates said we did not have the means to roll back Communism militarily, but if we held the line, over time Communism would self-destruct owing to its evil, its impracticality, and its inability to compete with the free peoples of the West.

The rollbackers thought containment was nothing short of capitulation. In 1952, a firebrand senator from California named Richard Nixon denounced those who had degrees from what he called “Dean Acheson’s cowardly college of Communist containment” as he ran for vice president on the GOP ticket with Dwight Eisenhower. Acheson, a towering figure in American political and diplomatic history, had been Harry Truman’s secretary of state.

Today we remember Truman (and Acheson) as heroes of the Cold War for standing up to the Soviets, saving Western Europe from the advance of Communism, and being so stalwart that they committed U.S. forces by the hundreds of thousands to prevent Stalinist North Korea from breaching the laws of containment and subsuming the South. But to the supporters of rollback in 1952, they were sellout squish liberals and the unwitting (or witting!) agents of Soviet design.

The supporters of rollback were uninterested in the political reality of that moment. They believed the U.S. was locked in a titanic moral struggle literally between the forces of evil and the forces of good, and anything less than the commitment of all available resources to win the battle was a form of surrender. They were morally in the right, but practically in the wrong.

Today those who oppose raising the debt ceiling on the grounds that we need to solve the debt crisis immediately or we will be destroyed by it are the direct descendants of those who supported rollback.

Everyone on the Right agrees that the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal path that must be altered. The difference comes down to the acceptance of political realities. Just as the United States could not effect rollback in the late 1940s (or any time thereafter), so too the Right and the Republican Party cannot effect a revolutionary change of course on July 31, 2011 with the Senate and the White House in liberal Democratic hands. The strategy, like containment, must have a longer time horizon, though it has the same goal: Ending the entitlement state before it swallows up the rest of the country.

The conceptual triumph of the Right is evident in two elements of the supposed deal. Take the fact that there are no new tax hikes. It was only 12 days ago that Barack Obama warned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor not to “call my bluff” and said he would go to “the American people on this.” He did; his poll numbers tanked. The “balanced approach” he advocated backfired on him even though he and his people continued to claim it had overwhelming popular support.

Now take the fact that in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling of $2.5 trillion, there will be corresponding dollar-for-dollar cuts. That establishes a new budgetary precedent, a rational and sound one, on the question of the national debt ceiling, one that will restrain presidents of both parties as we go forward.

So who are Obama and the Democrats in my analogy? They are the accommodationists of the early 1950s (and their progeny throughout the Cold War) who declared that the anti-Communist right was a hornet’s nest of crazy people who would ignite a war and get us all blown up. They wanted peace and harmony and cordial relations with the Soviets and their proxies just as the accommodationists today want to put their heads in the sand and refuse to face the moral and political and fiscal threat emanating from the entitlement state. Whereas the rollbackers were wrong strategically but right morally, the accommodationists were wrong strategically and wrong morally.

But those who advocated containment were right strategically and right morally. And their descendants are right to support the debt-ceiling deal.

 

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Who Has Voted to Increase the Debt Ceiling—Twice

So last night, Senate Democrats gave a press conference in which they variously denounced Republicans for refusing to act and, in an especially inapposite remark by Chuck Schumer, were said to be unable to tie their shoelaces. This morning the president said Republicans had wasted “precious days” struggling to pass their second bill raising the debt ceiling.

Judging from the liberal commentariat, this general proposition—that House Republicans are incompetent do-nothings—has become received law in many venues. And there was some support for the view when the GOP walked out of talks with the White House the other week. But it now flies in the face of inarguable fact: The Republican-led House has now passed two bills in two weeks raising the debt ceiling. The Senate has voted both those bills down. Yes, they contain provisions that are difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats to swallow. But facts are facts, and the facts are that the Republicans have provided two pathways to a debt-ceiling increase and the Democrats have provided none.

Democrats and their friends have reason to continue trying to sell the lines that Republicans are not interested in working with them and don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re starting to sound like Baghdad Bob doing it.

So last night, Senate Democrats gave a press conference in which they variously denounced Republicans for refusing to act and, in an especially inapposite remark by Chuck Schumer, were said to be unable to tie their shoelaces. This morning the president said Republicans had wasted “precious days” struggling to pass their second bill raising the debt ceiling.

Judging from the liberal commentariat, this general proposition—that House Republicans are incompetent do-nothings—has become received law in many venues. And there was some support for the view when the GOP walked out of talks with the White House the other week. But it now flies in the face of inarguable fact: The Republican-led House has now passed two bills in two weeks raising the debt ceiling. The Senate has voted both those bills down. Yes, they contain provisions that are difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats to swallow. But facts are facts, and the facts are that the Republicans have provided two pathways to a debt-ceiling increase and the Democrats have provided none.

Democrats and their friends have reason to continue trying to sell the lines that Republicans are not interested in working with them and don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re starting to sound like Baghdad Bob doing it.

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Dragging Israel Back to Its Socialist Past

Just as the United States is solely focused on the debt-ceiling crisis, judging by press reports, Israelis seem equally oblivious to foreign policy this week. Protests about a housing shortage have been making quite a ruckus and forcing the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scramble to deal with the problem. The housing demonstrations–on the heels of other complaints about the price of food–make it appear as if Israel is in dire economic straits. But by all accounts, Israel’s economy is in good shape. Economic growth continues at a steady pace, and the stewardship of the country’s finances by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have been widely praised.

So what’s behind this effort to undermine Netanyahu? Leftist commentator Gershon Gorenberg gives us a clue with his piece in the American Prospect. According to Gorenberg, the problem is not just this government, but the last two decades of efforts to transform Israel’s economy from a third world socialist basket case to the first world dynamo it is today. To this way of thinking, the inequities that can occur when free enterprise is allowed to create new wealth are abhorrent. His piece (which attempts to pick up the fraudulent theme championed last week by Ethan Bronner in which the protesters are seen as an echo of the Arab Spring), and the tone sounded by many of the protesters, reflect nostalgia for the good old days–when profit was a dirty word.  Like the demonstrators in the streets of Greece, their goal isn’t a more prosperous Israel but an expansion of an already bloated welfare state.

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Just as the United States is solely focused on the debt-ceiling crisis, judging by press reports, Israelis seem equally oblivious to foreign policy this week. Protests about a housing shortage have been making quite a ruckus and forcing the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scramble to deal with the problem. The housing demonstrations–on the heels of other complaints about the price of food–make it appear as if Israel is in dire economic straits. But by all accounts, Israel’s economy is in good shape. Economic growth continues at a steady pace, and the stewardship of the country’s finances by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have been widely praised.

So what’s behind this effort to undermine Netanyahu? Leftist commentator Gershon Gorenberg gives us a clue with his piece in the American Prospect. According to Gorenberg, the problem is not just this government, but the last two decades of efforts to transform Israel’s economy from a third world socialist basket case to the first world dynamo it is today. To this way of thinking, the inequities that can occur when free enterprise is allowed to create new wealth are abhorrent. His piece (which attempts to pick up the fraudulent theme championed last week by Ethan Bronner in which the protesters are seen as an echo of the Arab Spring), and the tone sounded by many of the protesters, reflect nostalgia for the good old days–when profit was a dirty word.  Like the demonstrators in the streets of Greece, their goal isn’t a more prosperous Israel but an expansion of an already bloated welfare state.

Netanyahu understands the shortages of housing are not the fault of the greedy capitalists who are blamed by the Israeli left but the vestiges of the government-run economy that still acts as a brake on growth. He wants to eliminate regulations, while Gorenberg and the protesters want more regulation that would return the nation to its “social democratic roots.” That’s not just bad housing policy; it is, if applied to a broad range of criticisms of Netanyahu’s domestic policies, a recipe to put Israel in the position of a bankrupt state such as Greece.

As anyone who knows its history, Israel has already been there. If it is currently in the best economic shape of its short history, it is because its recent governments have understood there can be no going back to the “social democratic” nightmare that once created multi-year waits for phone installations and other vestiges of a largely state-run economy. As the Jerusalem Post notes in an incisive editorial, the protesters and those egging them on have no coherent program to offer as an alternative to the government’s policies. Instead, all they have are “empty populist slogans articulating nothing more than inchoate discontent.”

If Israel is to continue on its current path toward greater prosperity, Netanyahu should stand his ground. While there can be no denying that problems exist and must be addressed, those who care about Israel’s future should not give encouragement to those who are trying to drag the Jewish state back to its troubled socialist past.

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More Evidence of Obama’s Eroding Support

Here’s further evidence the debt ceiling debate is badly hurting the president: His job approval rating is at a new low, averaging 40 percent in July 26-28 Gallup Daily tracking. (His prior low rating of 41 percent occurred several times, the last of which was in April.)

Obama’s job approval rating among Democrats is 72 percent, which is okay, but not great. And his approval rating is only 34 percent among independents, which is alarmingly low. (Thirteen percent of Republicans approve of Obama, which is about what one would expect.)

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Here’s further evidence the debt ceiling debate is badly hurting the president: His job approval rating is at a new low, averaging 40 percent in July 26-28 Gallup Daily tracking. (His prior low rating of 41 percent occurred several times, the last of which was in April.)

Obama’s job approval rating among Democrats is 72 percent, which is okay, but not great. And his approval rating is only 34 percent among independents, which is alarmingly low. (Thirteen percent of Republicans approve of Obama, which is about what one would expect.)

Gallup reports Obama’s approval ratings “has stumbled in the past few days, coinciding with intensification of the debt ceiling/budget battle in Washington.”

In addition, Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index averaged -49 July 26-28, down eight points in the last week and down 19 points since early July. The current index score is the worst Gallup has measured since March 2009.

“The inability of U.S. lawmakers to agree on the debt ceiling has apparently shaken Americans’ confidence in the economy and now seems to be taking its toll on the president’s public support,” according to Gallup.

The dismal growth figures released earlier today will as well.

 

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Reid’s Plan Likely to See Action

Not only would Sen. Harry Reid’s plan let Democrats avoid another debt-limit debate until after the 2012 election, but it will also allow them to avoid coming up with a new budget for the next two years. The Republican Policy Committee writes:

After over 800 days of no budget, the Reid plan “deems” a budget for this year AND next year – Democrats signal they want to avoid doing a budget next year.  Since the Reid bill puts in place discretionary spending caps for the Senate’s purposes for this year and next year, the Democrats are trying to avoid the need to do a budget resolution this year or next.

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Not only would Sen. Harry Reid’s plan let Democrats avoid another debt-limit debate until after the 2012 election, but it will also allow them to avoid coming up with a new budget for the next two years. The Republican Policy Committee writes:

After over 800 days of no budget, the Reid plan “deems” a budget for this year AND next year – Democrats signal they want to avoid doing a budget next year.  Since the Reid bill puts in place discretionary spending caps for the Senate’s purposes for this year and next year, the Democrats are trying to avoid the need to do a budget resolution this year or next.

In other words, the plan hitches the budgets to the level of growth projected by the Congressional Budget Office, so Democrats can dodge the budget blowup we saw last spring. But it will also let them avoid making necessary long-term changes to get the deficit under control, a scenario that’s unacceptable to most Republicans.

“The congressional budget act will be violated for the third straight year. This is an abrogation of the responsibilities of the Senate, and of the budget committee of the United States,” said ranking member Sen. Sessions of the Budget Committee on the floor this morning. “We were not elected to the Senate and chosen to serve on the Budget Committee to see most of the budget levels automatically raised.”

And that’s not the only landmine buried in the plan. It looks as if it also includes some hidden taxes:

Because it follows the CBO baseline, the Reid bill also assumes: the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, higher estate taxes, and the Alternative Minimum Tax hitting middle-class taxpayers.

This isn’t a surprise, but it would be another violation of Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. And it also raises questions about what else is obscured in the proposal. Most of the focus today has been on the drama in the House, but Reid is moving quickly, and his plan will likely see action soon.

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Hardship Lies Behind Economic Data

The most recent economic news is figuratively, if not quite literally, depressing.

According to the Commerce Department, the economy expanded 1.3 percent in the second quarter of this year. We also learned that the economy came close to contracting in the first quarter. The government revised the first quarter growth figures downward to just 0.4 percent, a huge downward revision from what we were orginally told (an increase of 1.9 percent).

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The most recent economic news is figuratively, if not quite literally, depressing.

According to the Commerce Department, the economy expanded 1.3 percent in the second quarter of this year. We also learned that the economy came close to contracting in the first quarter. The government revised the first quarter growth figures downward to just 0.4 percent, a huge downward revision from what we were orginally told (an increase of 1.9 percent).

From the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011, we experienced five consecutive quarters of slowing growth (3.9 percent, 3.8 percent, 2.5 percent, 2.3 percent, and 0.4 percent).

The combined growth for the first six months of the year was the weakest since the recession ended in the summer of 2009. This year, the economy will grow at a weaker pace than last year. And the economy is far too sluggish to make significant inroads into the unemployment rate, which now stands at 9.2 percent.

“The economy essentially came to a grinding halt in the first half of this year,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

In addition, in July, consumer confidence fell to its lowest point in more than two years. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s final reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment came in at 63.7, down from 71.5 in June, the lowest reading since March 2009.

Considerable human hardship lies behind this economic data. And that will properly translate–for the president and his party in 2012–into considerable political hardship.

 

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Iran’s Al-Qaeda Connection

As Max wrote, the triumphalist statements emanating from the administration about the supposed imminent collapse of al-Qaeda are both premature and besides the point, because the Islamist terrorist threat is bigger than this one organization. But yesterday, the Washington Post gave us another reminder of al-Qaeda’s resourcefulness and an even more ominous threat to American security: Iran. The Post reported Iran is now helping al-Qaeda funnel cash and recruits into Pakistan. According to the Treasury Department, the terror group’s money transfers have been handled out of Iran. Tehran is also allowing the free flow of al-Qaeda operatives through its borders, principally into Pakistan’s tribal region.

Iran’s direct aid to Hamas and Hezbollah has long been considered a fact of life in the Middle East. But its ties to al-Qaeda illustrate that this Islamist terror network isn’t limited to groups on Israel’s borders. Americans understand the nature of the al-Qaeda threat to the West, but this revelation ought to re-focus our attention on Iran’s goals as it moves closer to nuclear capability.

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As Max wrote, the triumphalist statements emanating from the administration about the supposed imminent collapse of al-Qaeda are both premature and besides the point, because the Islamist terrorist threat is bigger than this one organization. But yesterday, the Washington Post gave us another reminder of al-Qaeda’s resourcefulness and an even more ominous threat to American security: Iran. The Post reported Iran is now helping al-Qaeda funnel cash and recruits into Pakistan. According to the Treasury Department, the terror group’s money transfers have been handled out of Iran. Tehran is also allowing the free flow of al-Qaeda operatives through its borders, principally into Pakistan’s tribal region.

Iran’s direct aid to Hamas and Hezbollah has long been considered a fact of life in the Middle East. But its ties to al-Qaeda illustrate that this Islamist terror network isn’t limited to groups on Israel’s borders. Americans understand the nature of the al-Qaeda threat to the West, but this revelation ought to re-focus our attention on Iran’s goals as it moves closer to nuclear capability.

The Iranian nuclear threat has been under the radar of American foreign policy in the last few months as President Obama obsessed about his plans to pressure Israel. The idea that either the Stuxnet virus or the weak international sanctions imposed on the country have put an end to the problem can’t be taken seriously. Iran’s role in fomenting trouble for the United States in Afghanistan and Iran is well-documented. But what the administration must understand is that although many in Washington labor under the illusion a nuclear Iran can be contained, such a development will have implications for every aspect of our security. This doesn’t mean Iran would give its weapon to al-Qaeda, but the extension of an Iranian nuclear umbrella will destabilize every Arab nation not already allied with Tehran and strengthen Islamist factions that may align with the group in countries we now believe are secure. And it will embolden the terrorists just at a time when many of us think they are already beaten.

The connection between al-Qaeda and Iran is more than just a problem for our troops in the Middle East. Unless the United States is prepared to start taking the Iranian threat more seriously, the consequences may be unimaginable.

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Bachmann: The Anti-Sharia Candidate

After Mitt Romney suggested he was in favor of pulling out of Afghanistan during the first presidential debate, there was speculation about whether a new isolationist streak was coursing through the Republican presidential field. But at The New Republic, Eli Lake finds the national security issues dividing the candidates aren’t necessarily as simple as being for or against the drawdown.

There are numerous new debates that have cropped up within the party, and one subject unique to the 2012 field is the “threat” of sharia law in America. Namely, there’s a split among candidates who feel that sharia – Islamic religious law – is an imminent danger that could potentially overtake our Constitution, and those who disagree.

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After Mitt Romney suggested he was in favor of pulling out of Afghanistan during the first presidential debate, there was speculation about whether a new isolationist streak was coursing through the Republican presidential field. But at The New Republic, Eli Lake finds the national security issues dividing the candidates aren’t necessarily as simple as being for or against the drawdown.

There are numerous new debates that have cropped up within the party, and one subject unique to the 2012 field is the “threat” of sharia law in America. Namely, there’s a split among candidates who feel that sharia – Islamic religious law – is an imminent danger that could potentially overtake our Constitution, and those who disagree.

So far, Mitt Romney has avoided the issue in favor of more traditional concerns. Tim Pawlenty has dabbled in the anti-sharia movement, shutting down a sharia-compliant finance program when he was governor. His spokesperson told Lake that “he does think there is a threat from sharia or any religious law or international law of undermining U.S. law and the Constitution. The threat is the courts would look to sharia law instead of the U.S. Constitution, and the governor would vigorously oppose this.”

But based on the article, Rep. Michele Bachmann seems to be the top candidate for the anti-sharia movement. The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney – whose group focuses on the threat of sharia law – told Lake he’s advised Bachmann on the issues in the past:

And, of Bachmann, [Gaffney] said this: “She is a friend and a person I admire. I hope she is getting the best counsel she can.” He added, “We are a resource she has tapped, I’m assuming among many others.” When I asked him whether Bachmann had been briefed on the Team B II Report, he replied, “We’ve spent hours, over several days with her. I think she’s got the bulk of what we would tell her in one of the more formal presentations.”

Other leaders in the anti-sharia movement also praised Bachmann’s stances on the issue in the article:

“She really gets it that there is a stealth jihad by radical Islamists in this country,” says Sarah Stern, the president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern recalls a conversation that she had with Bachmann in the congresswoman’s office in October 2010. Stern says Bachmann was talking about “the depth of radical Islam in Minneapolis.” (Minneapolis was the site of a longtime operation by Al Shabab to recruit Somali-Americans to fight in Somalia.) “She actually said, ‘Right here, coming to a theater near you, we have stealth jihad in Minnesota,’” Stern told me approvingly.

This is one position that differentiates Bachmann among the other top candidates. So far, her campaign hasn’t spent a lot of time emphasizing it, but it could become a major point of contention (especially with Romney) when national security issues begin to take a more prominent role in the race. It’s also an issue her opponents and critics will likely seize on as yet another way to portray her as a far right-wing figure.

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Your Community Organizer-in-Chief

Throughout this crisis, President Obama has urged the American people to call, email and tweet Republican congressmen to demand a bipartisan compromise.

Within minutes of the Business Insider reporting the Apple Corporation currently has more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury, the president reiterated his request via Twitter for Americans to contact their legislators via Twitter to express their views.

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Throughout this crisis, President Obama has urged the American people to call, email and tweet Republican congressmen to demand a bipartisan compromise.

Within minutes of the Business Insider reporting the Apple Corporation currently has more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury, the president reiterated his request via Twitter for Americans to contact their legislators via Twitter to express their views.

After the president’s first request for Americans to contact their representatives, the phone lines both on Capitol Hill and at the White House were inoperable for days due to the high call volume. Despite the failure of this first request to force either side to reach a compromise, President Obama has again asked Americans to deluge congressional offices with calls.

As members of Congress and staff work long hours trying to pass plans and reach a compromise, resources are again being diverted to answering constituents’ calls, voicemails and tweets. If the president was as anxious as he claims to be to reach a deal, it would be advantageous for Congress to actually be able to do their jobs.

Earlier, Jonathan asked if it really is a disaster the president is seeking. With his latest request for a siege on Congress, it appears Obama is rooting for Armageddon.

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Senate Democrats Proposing a Plan?

Sen. Harry Reid, pushing ahead with his plan in the Senate, said this morning he’s open to “tweaks” to the bill if it will bring in the Republican support he needs to prevent a potential filibuster:

 “I have no pride of authorship,” Reid said on the floor. “If somebody can figure out another way to improve that suggestion I have, I will work with them.”

Speaking in personal terms, Reid said he’s spent his “entire adult life” finding consensus, even at times feeling like a “failure” in his previous career as an attorney.

Referring to his plan, Reid said, “This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default.”

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Sen. Harry Reid, pushing ahead with his plan in the Senate, said this morning he’s open to “tweaks” to the bill if it will bring in the Republican support he needs to prevent a potential filibuster:

 “I have no pride of authorship,” Reid said on the floor. “If somebody can figure out another way to improve that suggestion I have, I will work with them.”

Speaking in personal terms, Reid said he’s spent his “entire adult life” finding consensus, even at times feeling like a “failure” in his previous career as an attorney.

Referring to his plan, Reid said, “This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default.”

If the top concern for Democrats right now is to avoid having a round two of the debt debate in the middle of a general election, then some serious compromises from their side are crucial. Politico reports Senate Democrats are trying to work out some hybrid between Sen. Mitch McConnell’s plan – which would let Congress skip an election-year debate – and Rep. John Boehner’s:

Under the possible compromise, Congress could still get a second crack at voting on the debt limit within months. But rather than linking the vote to Congress approving the recommendations of a new 12-member committee — as it would be in Boehner’s bill — Democrats prefer McConnell’s proposal that allows President Barack Obama to lift the debt ceiling unless two-thirds of both chambers override his veto of a disapproval resolution, the officials said.

Obviously, if Boehner is having so much trouble getting Republican support for his plan, one coupled with the even less popular McConnell plan would be much harder to sell to the House GOP. But that might not even be necessary if the combo proposal is able to garner enough Democratic support. This might sound crazy – and undesirable to both parties – but if all else fails, it could be the best option left.

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Obama: Why Isn’t Anyone Thinking About My Reelection?

President Obama used an interesting phrase to describe John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill today: “It’s a plan that would force us to relive this crisis in just a few short months… in other words, it does not solve the problem.”

This is a patently ridiculous statement on its face; the debt ceiling has to be raised regularly–as Obama has frequently reminded the American people during this debate. Does that mean “the problem” is never solved? If so, the GOP has nothing to do with it. Is Obama pushing for the elimination of the debt ceiling? No, what he meant to say was: “In other words, it does not solve my problem.”

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President Obama used an interesting phrase to describe John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill today: “It’s a plan that would force us to relive this crisis in just a few short months… in other words, it does not solve the problem.”

This is a patently ridiculous statement on its face; the debt ceiling has to be raised regularly–as Obama has frequently reminded the American people during this debate. Does that mean “the problem” is never solved? If so, the GOP has nothing to do with it. Is Obama pushing for the elimination of the debt ceiling? No, what he meant to say was: “In other words, it does not solve my problem.”

Obama has realized–I think he figured it out a while ago, actually, and said so here–that with the shape the economy is in, he stands to lose big with the voters in 2012. He doesn’t much care if Republicans take heat for this impasse now, if he’s going to take heat next year if the economy doesn’t turn around. So what may have started as “the problem” has quickly become “Obama’s problem”–that the debt ceiling will have to be raised again before the next election.

This is quite a frank admission from the president. He is making it abundantly clear he is not winning this debate. (It’s possible nobody is, though.) If the president were confident about the way he has approached this issue, we would be seeing a calmer politician. But Obama is openly panicking. He has gone on TV over and over and over again practically begging the American people to do something about the evil Republicans threatening action that would hurt his reelection campaign.

“Please, to all the American people, keep it up,” he said. “If you want to see a bipartisan compromise, a bill that could pass both houses of Congress, and that I can sign, let your members of Congress know. Make a phone call, send an email, tweet. Keep the pressure on Washington.”

“Tweet.” In other words, “I’m desperate.” I don’t think Obama wants just any deal, which is why he’s been so intransigent on Boehner’s proposals. But I think he has noticeably shifted his priorities to getting this debate postponed until after the election.

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