MILLER: Obama’s debt ultimatum
So much for bipartisanship. President Obama held a rare press conference Monday to declare he will not negotiate with Congress over raising the debt ceiling. That leaves Republicans with two options: go along with the spending or refuse the president’s demands and risk temporarily shutting down the non-essential functions of government.
Mr. Obama delivered the message that it’s his way or the highway, saying there is no “credible solution other than Congress either give me the authority to raise the debt ceiling — or exercise the responsibility that they have kept for themselves and raise the debt ceiling — because this is about paying your bills.”
In 2011, Republicans led by House Speaker John A. Boehner established a rule that borrowing should be matched dollar-for-dollar with spending cuts to try to bring at least some fiscal responsibility to the table. Mr. Obama compared working with Congress to a hostage negotiation. “They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy,” said the president.
The White House wants a quick resolution to the issue so that no time will be available to attempt something serious like entitlement reform or identifying wasteful government programs for elimination. Mr. Obama dismissed the Republican desire to shore up Medicare and Social Security as “negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”
Yet the administration is employing scare tactics to give vulnerable Americans the false impression that the GOP is trying to take away their checks. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner wrote to the top four congressional leaders Monday claiming tax revenue will not cover all the spending, so things like Social Security payments, military salaries, unemployment and Medicare “would be at risk” if the debt ceiling is not raised.
Mr. Geithner neglected to mention the congressional ability to prioritize payments, ensuring the elderly and the military are paid in full. The letter added a note of urgency by pointing out the government funds will dry up sometime between mid-February and early March.
Less than seven years ago, it was a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama voting against raising the statutory debt limit, which was $8.2 trillion at the time. “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally,” said then-Sen. Obama. “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
Mr. Obama may no longer care about the debt crisis, but the public does. A Gallup poll this week showed the federal budget deficit rose to the No. 2 concern among Americans. A general dissatisfaction with government and the economy knocked unemployment out of the top-three issues for the first time since 2009.
Mr. Boehner has ruled out any more deals made with this White House behind closed doors. The public should know what’s really going on here is a reluctance on the part of Democrats to acknowledge the country can no longer afford to continue spending with abandon. The red ink has doubled since Mr. Obama declared a “debt crisis” in 2006. Americans deserve better than to continue on this path.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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