So far in his handling of the budget/debt issue, President Obama gets an A for splitting the Republicans and a D for offering far more substantive concessions than necessary.
His bigger mistake was accepting the premise that what America needs is a ten-year budget deal, a premise that played to the Republican strategy of privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
But the best moment in recent days occurred when Obama warned Rep. Eric Cantor "not to call my bluff," ended the meeting and strode out of the room. We need such more flashes of presidential anger.
With a press conference set for 11 a.m. today (Friday), this would be a very good moment for Obama to say something like the following:
It's clear that Republicans and Democrats are poles apart on the issue of how to reduce the deficit and what mix of taxes and spending is good public policy. The issue of raising the debt ceiling never should have been linked to the 2012 budget, much less to a ten year budget.
Sen. Mitch McConnell is to be commended for proposing that we de-link these issues, and giving me the authority to increase the debt ceiling so that America's credit rating is not jeopardized and Social Security checks can go out on time. I accept that responsibility. He is right that his party is taking the bigger political risk by playing chicken with this country's creditworthiness.
I had been hoping that we might reach a grand compromise. I was even prepared to push my own party way to sacrifice some core Democratic programs in the name of fiscal soundness, but Republicans were not prepared to meet me even a quarter of the way because of their adamant refusal to consider taxes as part of the deal.
It's clear that we are not going to have a constructive resolution of that debate this year, much less in the context of overheated brinksmanship about the debt ceiling.
We have an election next year, and that is the time for a great debate on how to safeguard Social Security and Medicare, how to bring about a recovery with good jobs, and how to pay for a responsible fiscal policy.
In the meantime, it is pointless to go on wrangling about a ten year deficit reduction plan. The election will decide what direction the country should take, and I will be campaigning on the theme that we need to get a strong recovery going, get to a gradual and balanced path to fiscal stability, and without sacrificing valued programs like Social Security and Medicare.
In the meantime, I call on both parties and both Houses to support the McConnell plan so we can get past this artificial and needless debt ceiling crisis. And then we can get on with the immediate business of the 2012 budget and the need to use all available policies to create jobs and get back on the road to recovery. If the Republicans let this country default on its debt, that will be on their conscience and they will bear the consequences.