DENVER, COLORADO—By the time his motorcade pulled up to Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver at 6:40 local time Wednesday evening, October 3, the president knew he had 20 minutes to make a decision.
The campaign of his opponent, Governor Mitt Romney, had so deteriorated that, for his part, Barack Obama understood there was a sound argument on behalf of running out the clock and not taking any great risks. The president is typically a prudent man, right up until the moment he does something notably risky, such as ordering the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in spite of virtually all of his inner circle advising against it (except CIA Director Leon Panetta). Now, with only moments until the debate began, the president could anticipate what might well be moderator Jim Lehrer’s opening question, for which the Obama campaign had prepared an innocuous response, counting on the near certainty that Governor Romney would offer a response even more useless.
But another, bolder answer, of which the president had not advised his prep team, had been forming in his thoughts for a while. If it was high risk, inviting media scrutiny, it also was high reward, a response that would be the most presidential thing anyone said that night and that would put Governor Romney on the spot, if not expose him as the fraud that the president had come to genuinely believe him to be. It would dominate all subsequent coverage of the debate and catch the governor off guard; Romney, the president remembered, is never worse than when he’s off guard. If the Republican candidate didn’t manage a very good rebuttal, the election would be over.
LEHRER: Mr. President, I don’t need to tell you that the issue first and foremost on everyone’s mind is the state of the national economy. You and your campaign, and some in the media, have accused Governor Romney of offering no specifics as to what he would do about the economy should he be elected president. But are you prepared this evening to offer specifics of your own?
THE PRESIDENT: Jim [dramatic pause], I am. The American people deserve no less from both Governor Romney and me.
I’ll try to be as succinct as I can. But your question calls for a big answer, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to respond in the allotted time.
I’m announcing tonight that, if re-elected, I will immediately call the House of Representatives back into session in order to raise the ceiling of our national debt. I would remind my fellow Americans that raising the debt ceiling is not a matter of the government spending more money. It’s a matter of honoring a debt already incurred and thereby preserving our credit rating. I’m sure I don’t have to remind everyone how, last summer, radical Republicans in the House held our economy hostage over this issue and how, as a result, for the first time in history our country’s credit rating was downgraded.
Now we approach a similar debt-ceiling deadline at the end of this year. I’m here to tell you this evening that if the Congress again fails to fulfill its responsibility by November 15, I will exercise the powers enumerated in Article Four of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and raise the debt ceiling myself, through executive action.
It’s not my preference to do it this way. My preference is for the Republicans in Congress do their job. If there are lawmakers who feel I’m overstepping the constraints of my office, let them challenge my action in court. But I’m not going to stand by and let the same people who almost drove our economy over a cliff four years ago, and who almost drove it over a cliff last year, do it again, hurting the country we love in order to advance an extreme ideology. I will take this action to bring a sense of stability to the world markets and so that no nation will wonder if the United States will default on its debt.
Of course, I could take this action right now and not wait for the election’s aftermath. But since an election is upon us, I think the American people have a right to weigh in on this matter, which they’ll be doing when they vote.
Next, on the night of the election I’ll also call Speaker Boehner and invite him to the White House the following day. There, I’ll offer the speaker the same broad outlines of the “grand bargain” that he and I discussed in the summer of 2011.
This was an agreement that would have cut government spending over the next decade by trillions of dollars. It was an agreement, I might add, that some in my own party weren’t happy about. I’ll resurrect this bargain in the spirit of the same bipartisanship that I tried to pursue during my first term, in the face of a monolithic and hostile Republican opposition for whom the only political priority, since the day I walked into the White House, has been my defeat in next month’s election.
There will be, however, several new conditions to this package.
First, whatever entitlement reforms are agreed upon will be for the purpose of guaranteeing the future of Medicare and Social Security, both for those now receiving benefits and those now paying into these programs.
Second, the American Jobs Act is now part of this package. This law could and should have been passed a year ago when I sent it to Congress. It would create millions of jobs and not add to the deficit, and it incorporates many proposals that Republicans previously supported but have since opposed solely for the purpose of hurting me politically.
Third, the package will now include the extension of the Bush tax cuts for all family incomes under $250,000, and the elimination of those tax cuts for all income over $250,000, where the rate will rise four percent. Just to be clear, a family making $300,000 a year pays the same low rate on the first $250,000 and the higher rate on the income above that.
Jim, there you have a complete and comprehensive economic package. It’s one that creates jobs, that cuts the debt and begins entitlement reform, that continues to cut taxes for working middle-class families as well as payroll taxes and taxes for small businesses, and that raises taxes modestly on people like me and Governor Romney who have done very well by the American dream and who can afford to give a little back to our country.
This is a package not for 47 percent of the American people, not for 53 percent, but for 100 percent. This is a package not for a country of “victims” and “freeloaders,” as Governor Romney has described, but for an America of families fighting valiantly to make their lives better and their children’s. This is a package different from the one that Governor Romney had advanced, to the extent that he’s advanced one at all. His is a plan, such as it is, that cuts taxes for the very wealthy and raises defense spending that the Pentagon neither wants nor needs and eliminates the deficit at the expense of middle class working folks.
Tonight I invite Governor Romney to support my plan, or make the case that his is better, or make the case that he even has a plan.
What do you say, Mitt?