Published On: Sun, Jul 24th, 2011

Backed Into A Corner – The Crisis Obama Never Saw Coming

By Russell Halley

The battle over the debt limit continues to rage in Washington. Predictably, main stream media  supports Obama’s narrative that it’s Boehner’s fault, that the Republicans refuse to compromise and will agree to nothing. But is this impasse really so tough to decipher?

It was February 9, 2009 when Rahm Emmanuel stated confidently that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Obama took office in a crisis, and in the first two years his team of czars and leftist ideologues exploited that crisis with both hands, They took advantage of America’s legitimate economic anxiety to justify an unrelenting and unprecedented expansion of government. This agenda has included a failed, $800 billion “stimulus” package that was little more than a payoff to the union thugocracy but which did nothing to stem unemployment;  an attempt to control the Nation’s energy sector and drive costs up; increasing domination of housing and financial markets; the use of taxpayer money to seize part ownership of two nearly bankrupt auto makers; and the planned takeover of Americans’ health care system, already heavily burdened, manipulated, and distorted by government spending and regulation. This version of crisis management can only lead to higher taxes, more regulation, excessive spending, deficits, and debt, economic stagnation, and a sinking standard of living.

It was no real surprise that less than 90 days after his inauguration, voters started to rise up in alarm and spawned the Tea Party movement, a spontaneous and leaderless political phenomenon, unique in American History. The arrogance of the Democrat Congress and Administration which passed this legislation despite the clear opposition of the majority only helped fuel the electorate’s rage, which resulted in an electoral blowout last November of unprecedented proportion. Although Obama and his crew are clearly not the political geniuses they once appeared to be, they surely must have seen this debacle coming, but apparently they believed that they had made so much “progress” on their agenda, that even this electoral catastrophe would never allow the Republicans to put the genie back in the bottle.

Yet at least one of their loyalists anticipated a problem the rest of them might not have foreseen. During MSNBC’s election night coverage last November, Lawrence O’Donnell claimed that if the Republicans filibustered an attempt to raise the debt ceiling, it would destroy the United States’ credit rating and possibly spark a worldwide depression. O’Donnell pressed House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and asked “”You want to raise the debt ceiling…or are you going to let the country crash?”

“We’re going to have at least three or four months here to demonstrate that we are about fiscal discipline,” replied Cantor.

“And then you’re going to raise the debt ceiling, or let the country crash?” O’Donnell asked again.

Of course, this has never been about ruining the country’s credit rating. Obama could just not conceive that the Republicans would dare hold to their principles and honor the loud voice of the electorate by standing up to the power of the Presidency. His arrogance let him assume that eventually the Republicans would be forced to yield and he would get his credit line increased so that he could keep things moving at least through the 2012 election and the fulfill the goal articulated by his wife back in 2008 when she said “We’re going to have to make sacrifices, we’re going to have to change our conversation, we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history and we’re going to have to move to a different place.”

What Obama and the Democrats didn’t count on was the resolve of the Republicans and the strength and clear thinking of the mild mannered John Boehner, Speaker of the House. Obama was so out of touch with the mood of the country when he delivered his State of the Union Address last January, that he airily proposed a five year freeze on domestic spending at the ridiculously high levels he’d raised them to which he claimed would reduce the deficit by $400 billion over the next decade.  If this was even true, that would be compared to total expected spending of close to $40 trillion over the same period, like reducing a $1,000 bar bill by $10… sometime in the future.

By contrast, in April Republican Paul Ryan proposed a budget that would reduce spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade and reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion.  This passed the House on a party line vote April 15th, but was rejected by the Senate 57-40 in May, the same day that Obama’s budget was defeated unanimously: not even a single Democrat in the Senate sided with the President’s plan. Of course the Senate might have taken up the Democrat’s budget, but there hasn’t been one proposed since April 2009.

As O’Donnell had predicted, the debate over the debt ceiling would prove significant, but not for the reasons he suggested.  What we’ve been watching these last few months is nothing more than a charade. Obama and the Democrats have never been serious about this issue, and have no desire to cut spending or curb the deficit because it runs counter to everything they’ve done or hope to accomplish.  Throughout the process, Boehner has done everything possible to allow the President to do the right thing while allowing him the dignity of cover to avoid a political humiliation or the ignominy of being the first President to preside over the lowering of the credit rating of the United States of America.

Paying heed to the August 2 deadline that Obama and Geitner have been touting for months, on Friday Boehner decided that negotiating with Obama was impossible. Agreements on spending cuts were reneged on and tax increases which had already been rejected reappeared like bad dreams.

Recently in a meeting with reporters, Boehner explained his frustration.

“Dealing with them the last couple months has been like dealing with Jell-o,” Boehner said. “Some days it’s firmer than others. Sometimes it’s like they’ve left it out over night.”

Boehner explained that talks had broken down earlier this month because, he said, the president backed off entitlement reforms so much from Friday to Saturday.

“It was Jell-o; it was damn near liquid.

Much of the time had been spent just going backwards on reforming entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“The only thing they’ve been firm on is these damn tax increases,” the Speaker said.

As further evidence of their serious intent, this week the Republican house passed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act on a near-party-line vote of 234-190.  The bill provides specific numbers to limit both discretionary and mandatory spending for Fiscal Year 2012 and in the future, cap total federal spending as a percentage of the economy thus making it difficult to raise taxes, and calls for passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the constitution which would impose fiscal discipline on the Federal Government and require that it live within its means.

On Friday, Harry Reid’s reaction to this ambitious legislation was only to allow a vote to table the bill, allowing no debate, and once the bill was set aside he called it “the single worst piece of legislation ever to hit the Senate floor.”  The “Cut, Cap and Balance” (measure) is now over. It’s done, dead,” Reid said after the 51-46 vote.

Finally, to Obama’s surprise, Boehner seems to have had enough.  Late Friday he informed the President that he would no longer negotiate with the White House on the issue.  In a statement, he blamed Obama’s renewed insistence on higher taxes and opposition to “fundamental changes” to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“In the end, we couldn’t connect,” Boehner wrote. “Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country. The president is emphatic that taxes have to be raised. The president is adamant that we cannot make fundamental changes to our entitlement programs.”

Instead, in a call with colleagues on Saturday, Boehner made it known that he will stand firm and work with congressional leaders to craft a solution.

“As I read the Constitution, the Congress writes the laws and you get to decide what you want to sign,” Boehner said, recounting what he told the president, according to two sources.

Prior to a late meeting at the White House Saturday, Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck said “Our message there will be simple: If the White House won’t get serious, we will,” The speaker is determined to tackle our spending problem in a significant way and, as he stressed last night, is committed to preventing a default on our debt.”

It was expected that Boehner would insist that the president agree to a package of spending cuts that match the amount needed to raise the debt limit, which would be about $2.4 trillion through the end of next year, Buck said.

So as Obama finds himself ready to go on vacation again and to celebrate his 50th birthday at a $35,000 per couple fund-raiser in Chicago August 3rd, he finds himself stalked by a crisis that apparently only O’Donnell saw coming.  And this time, it will likely be John Boehner and the Republican that use this crisis to do things you think you could not do before.

Rahm Emmanuel must be so proud.

About the Author

- Russell Halley is a lifelong political voyeur. Halley started writing for weekly newspapers in the early 70's, and advanced to a successful career as a freelancer, having been published in several national magazines. Eventually, however, the call of commerce lured him away and he switched to circulation, working with many of the largest publishers around the world to increase readership. As an avocation, Russell has always followed and participated in the minutia of the political world, and migrated from a severe left wing point of view to conservatism. He was flattered when the San Jose Mercury News once described his style as “Republican Punk”, and prides himself on a certain expertise in this arena, with a perspective that he hopes sheds light on the issues of the day. Read more of Halley's clips here.