WASHINGTON, D.C., January 4, 2013 — Will Republicans really threaten to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States in order to get significant cuts in Medicare and Social Security?
Sure they will. But in the end, they will cave.
Smashing into the debt-ceiling is worse than falling off the fiscal cliff. Defaulting on the national debt means the United States will fail to meet its obligations on wages, Social Security payments, and interest on the national debt. Beyond that, stock markets would plunge, interest rates would soar, and the dollar would lose its value. Republicans are aware of that reality, and will not want to be blamed for causing a global recession.
The best leverage the GOP had to restore fiscal discipline to the country was when we were on the edge of the “fiscal cliff.” But they overestimated the leverage President Obama supposedly had. They forgot that President Obama was not the only person who won reelection. Republicans won as well.
Instead, a Republican Party that had not voted for a tax increase in two decades ended up doing so, with only $12 billion in spending cuts to show for it.
During the fiscal cliff negotiations, The White House leaked that President Obama was willing to go over the fiscal cliff if Republicans refused to give in on tax increases.
It was a bluff, a brinkmanship exercise, and Republicans fell for it.
Would a newly reelected, second-term president really risk a nine percent unemployment rate, and another recession just to score a political victory on higher taxes? Doubtful.
If Republicans get spending cuts and entitlement reform during the debt-ceiling negotiations, it will not be because they have “leverage.” It will be because President Obama, after all this time, finally decided to get serious about solving the fiscal crisis.
Obama pays lip service to debt reduction but has done very little to tackle it. In Feb. 2009, “I am pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office,” Obama said, in a serious tone. He put together a bipartisan Fiscal Commission (Simpson-Bowles) but ignored their recommendations.
For a president who many thought would usher in a new kind of leadership and a refreshing boldness, President Obama has been missing in action when it comes to dealing with one of the most important issues the country faces: the national debt.
Why is there always short-term fiscal deal under this president? The country goes from one fiscal cliff to another, year after year, on his watch. Why is that?
Blaming it all on Republican intransigence is intellectual laziness.
The reality is that President Obama is not an effective negotiator. He does not put in the time and effort to cultivate relationships with Congress. He believes so much in his rhetorical prowess that he consistently goes over the heads of members of Congress to appeal directly to the American people.
Democrats worry that he is not a tough negotiator. Republicans do not trust him, which is why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chose Vice President Joe Biden as his negotiating partner in the final hours of the “fiscal cliff” talks.
If President Obama were really serious about reining in the national debt, he would have put forth a plan by now. Whispering to John Boehner behind closed doors about what you might be willing to cut is not leadership. Put it out in the open. Have an honest conversation with the American people and explain that the current spending levels are unsustainable. Tell them that we are leaving a mountain of debt for our children and grandchildren. Mean it. Then get behind closed doors, and find a way to get it done.
When historians write about the failure of America to reach a grand bargain on fiscal issues, they will not remember the names of the House Republicans that did not want to deal. No one will remember “Plan B.” They will say Barack Obama was a two-term president who failed to put America on a sound fiscal footing for future generations.
That will be his legacy.
Ayobami is a graduate student in George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.
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