Barack's Blunder

By Begala, Paul | Newsweek, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Barack's Blunder


Begala, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: Paul Begala

'I'll take John Boehner at his word.'

When Barack Obama was running for president, Greg Craig, one of his strongest supporters (later his White House counsel), described the candidate's philosophy of dealing with Republicans. "I want a President who is looking to move the country with positive inspirational ideas rather than to fight off the bad guys and proclaim victory by defeating the forces of reaction," he told George Packer of The New Yorker. Craig predicted Obama would win universal health coverage "by building the consensus around the positions that make sense--say, the position that we should not have forty-seven million Americans uninsured. You don't win national health insurance by turning Republicans against you. You've got to get them to join you."

Of course, President Obama won universal health coverage, but without persuading a single Republican to join him. The health-care fight proved the folly of a strategy of rational reasoning with the Republicans. And yet one reason we have the manufactured crisis of sequester is because the White House somehow believed reason would triumph over partisanship.

Obama himself said as much. After the Republican takeover of the House, but before the gavel had been handed to John Boehner, the president cut a deal with Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked Obama if he was worried that, since the tax-cut deal did not address the upcoming ceiling on the national debt, "it would seem that [Republicans] have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in. Was there ever any attempt by the White House to include raising the debt limit as a part of this package?"

The president seemed to not even be able to comprehend the import of Ambinder's question. "When you say it would seem they'll have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean?" he responded. Ambinder explained that the new House GOP majority could use the threat of defaulting on the national debt to force "significant spending cuts across the board that probably go deeper and further than what you're willing to do."

The president didn't buy it. "I'll take John Boehner at his word," he said, "that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That's something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he's going to have responsibilities to govern. …

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