Commentary Magazine


Obama Still Politicizing the Debt Crisis

President Obama is still trying to pose as the adult in the room–blaming partisans for the debt ceiling crisis. But in his latest speech on the situation, in which he scorned the Republicans for playing politics, the president stuck to his own political agenda rather than playing a constructive role in a standoff in which he has been reduced to the role of an impotent spectator.

Obama’s advocacy this morning for higher taxes — a stance that even congressional Democrats have abandoned — and insistence a deal must give him a pass on the debt until after he is re-elected illustrated his detachment from the real problem of dealing with the government’s addiction to spending. But while he didn’t go overboard with class warfare rhetoric in quite the same way as he did on Monday, the president repeated his call for Congress to be deluged with calls and e-mails this weekend. What good will come from a transparent attempt to pressure Congress as it struggles to find a compromise the White House has done nothing to advance? Like almost everything else the president has done during this showdown, this speech strengthens the suspicion Obama’s goal is exactly the disaster he says he’s trying to avert.

From the start of the negotiations over the debt, the White House has seemed to be aiming toward a repeat of the 1995 government shutdown in which President Clinton turned the public against the Republican Congress. Replicating that very different situation was always a long shot; especially since the House GOP leadership was far more savvy and responsible than their predecessors. But by stoking the partisan divide, Obama has made it more difficult for House Speaker John Boehner to rally Republican hard-liners on the debt and discouraged Democrats from working with the GOP majority. By again seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Congress in this manner, Obama’s goal again appears to be to blow things up rather than bring the two sides together.

If, as now appears likely, the latest proposal from Speaker Boehner passes the House and Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Democratic plan passes the Senate, it will be up to the two bodies to make a deal and end the crisis. President Obama remains on the sidelines playing a largely passive, if destructive, role. His only hope to gain politically from this mess is if Congress fails to pass a bill for him to sign by Tuesday. Unfortunately, his speeches, like his destructive economic policies, appear to reinforce the impression this is exactly what he wants to happen.