President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner held dueling prime time addresses to the nation and even disagreed on whether there was a stalemate over the debt ceiling. That is the problem in a nutshell.
President Obama, for the most part, was cordial while speaking from the White House East Room. He laid out the debt ceiling crisis facing our nation's economy and called for compromise and a balanced approach. His position is to take on government deficit spending through budget cuts and some increased revenues.
But Republicans have adamantly refused to raise revenues. "Republican House members have essentially said that the only way they'll vote to prevent America's first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending cuts-only approach," President Obama said. He pointed out that there is a lot at stake, "If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills -- bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans' benefits and the government contracts we've signed with thousands of businesses."
For his part, Speaker Boehner was partisan and forceful in his remarks from his ceremonial Capitol Hill office. "The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today," Boehner said. "That is just not going to happen."
Six months ago the president wanted a clean extension of the debt ceiling. But Republicans and some conservative critics refused saying that passage must be linked to cuts in future government spending. The debt ceiling is now $14.3 billion dollars, so 40 cents of every tax dollar collected goes to service the debt.
Just a decade ago the U.S. government had a surplus. But President George W. Bush enacted huge tax cuts, including for wealthy Americans, initiated two costly wars, and passed a huge prescription drug program that were all unfunded. The recession, which increased costs and decreased revenues due to high unemployment, added to the red ink.
In the face of GOP resistance to pass a clean debt ceiling bill, the president then shifted his position by agreeing to consider cuts, including in entitlement programs, as long as some revenues were included. Revenues would come from closing tax loopholes and placing more of a burden on the nation's wealthiest income earners. Progressive Democrats howled over possible cuts in entitlements, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But Tea Party Republicans howled over any possible revenue increases.
At one point last week the two sides were close to a deal, with Speaker Boehner apparently agreeing to $800 billion in revenues. But when the president asked for $400 billion more in revenues Speaker Boehner broke off talks with the White House. Instead, House Republicans worked over the weekend to craft their own proposal, which calls for a two-step plan for $2.5 trillion in budget cuts with another debt ceiling vote in six months contingent on Congress agreeing to further deep budget cuts. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats crafted their own proposal which calls for $4 trillion in cuts over the next ten years, no revenue increases and extension of the debt ceiling until after the 2012 presidential election.
Of course, President Obama opposes the latest Republican proposal because it has no revenues and would mean the government would face another budget crisis early next year--before the 2012 presidential election. And there is a report that the Boehner proposal would lead to a downgrade in America's credit. Meanwhile, Republicans oppose Reid's proposal because they say it relies heavily on gimmicks. Stalemate anyone?
In his speech Monday night the president decried the "partisan three-ring circus" in the nation's capital. He said, "The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government." He even cited the fact that Republican icon President Ronald raised the debt limit eighteen times during his presidency, and President George W. Bush did so seven times.
President Barack Obama has made major concessions throughout the negotiations. And Senate Leader Reid has now made a major concession on revenues in his latest proposal, which the president today indicated he will support. But Republicans are likely to hold their ground against the Reid bill, even though failure to past the debt ceiling may have devastating consequences on the already struggling U.S. economy.
President Obama called the crisis a stalemate. Speaker Boehner said there is no stalemate because Republicans have a plan. Perhaps Republicans are counting on failure to pass the debt ceiling as the best way to assure President Barack Obama will be a one-term president.