Obama Stays Tame on Republicans

If his press conference this afternoon was any indication, President Obama wants the world to know that American debt is still safe. “The markets continue to believe that our status is AAA. … Warren Buffet said that if there were a quadruple-A rating, he’d give us that.”

While Obama disputes the downgrade, he doesn’t actually take issue with Standard and Poor’s assessment of our political system. As he put it, the United States doesn’t need S&P to tell us that “using the debt ceiling as a threat” would be disastrous to our economy, or that Washington gridlock hasn’t been “constructive.”

Insofar that there’s any difference between S&P’s explanation of our debt downgrade and Obama’s endorsement of its reasoning, it’s S&P’s willingness to attack Republicans for turning the debt ceiling into an occasion for brinksmanship, and the president’s refusal to follow suit. Instead, Obama doubled-down on his usual formulation: Both sides need to set aside their shibboleths for the sake of getting something done. In this case, that something involves extending the payroll tax cuts, renewing unemployment insurance, and investing more in improving infrastructure.

Of course, just because Obama won’t say that Republicans are to blame doesn’t mean that they aren’t, and more important, it doesn’t mean that they won’t try this game again. There’s still one battle left on the horizon – the fight over 2012 appropriations – and Republicans show every intention of digging in their heels and forcing Democrats to accept further cuts or even pass a balanced-budget amendment.

Strong rhetoric from President Obama won’t change the fundamentals of the situation – right-wing conservatives are still an influential faction in the House Republican caucus – and it won’t move public opinion, but it can gear up liberals, Democrats, and activists for the next budget fight. And given Obama’s flagging reputation with his progressive supporters, it’s probably an avenue he should look into.

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