Three very good signs in the past few days suggest that President Obama has been reading Robert Caro’s latest volume on Lyndon Johnson.
The president is handling the debt-ceiling fight very shrewdly, and making the Republicans look both reckless and childish for playing cute with the risk of another financial meltdown. Some of us have been waiting four years for Obama to sound like this:
Two years ago, when S&P downgraded the credit rating of the United States, they didn’t site our debt or our spending. Instead, they knocked our political system, and in particular, the dysfunction and institutional creakiness that made a debt ceiling stand-off possible: “The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge,” said the company in a statement released that summer.
A week before his inaugural, President Obama says he won’t negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit.
At an unexpected news conference on Monday he said he won’t trade cuts in government spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit.
“If the goal is to make sure that we are being responsible about our debt and our deficit - if that’s the conversation we’re having, I’m happy to have that conversation,” Obama said. “What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”
Two years ago, President Obama welcomed the debt ceiling as an opportunity to negotiate deficit reduction with congressional Republicans. This backfired—rather than work in good faith with the president, Republicans used this as an opportunity to hold the economy hostage to a list of narrow demands: for a balanced budget amendment, for regressive changes to entitlements, for large cuts to the social safety net.
Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Rafael Edwards)
As any parent knows, when your children are young, you have one distinct advantage over them: you're smarter than they are. It won't be that way forever, but if it comes down to an argument, using words, with a six-year-old, you're probably going to win. Faced with this disadvantage, children often resort to things like repeating the thing they've already said a hundred more times, or stomping their feet. Which brings us, of course, to the House Republicans.
If there’s anything frustrating about American politics at this moment, it’s the disappearance of mass unemployment as an area of elite concern. Now that joblessness is on the decline, Washington has moved away from efforts to further address the problem, despite the fact that unemployment isn’t expected to reach pre-recession levels for another four years.
You can say the same for Washington’s attitude towards growth. Gross domestic product increased by 3.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and 1.9 percent in the first. Average GDP for the year will probably fall near 2 percent.
If you’re looking for evidence that Republicans will—despite their rhetoric—eventually cave on the debt ceiling, it’s worth noting a recent statement from Rand Paul, to Business Insider, on how he thinks the GOP should approach the ceiling. Rather than force a shutdown, Paul thinks Republicans should pass a bill that would prioritize payments to bondholders if the limit is reached. This would, he says, “force us immediately to have a balanced budget.”
The more information we learn about the mortgage settlement that was announced Monday—official documents are yet to be made public—the more of a smarmy backroom deal it turns out to be.
The deal lets ten major banks and other “loan servicers” off the hook for a corrupted and illegal process of millions of foreclosures, with a paltry one-time settlement of $8.5 billion. The economic damage inflicted on homeowners, and by extension on the economy, was many times that.
To no one’s great surprise, President Obama has appointed his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Mainly, the choice signals that there will be no change either in the Obama-Geithner approach to reforming Wall Street (not very much), or on fiscal politics, where deficit reduction is a paramount goal despite a faltering recovery.
I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts.
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum marshals two charts showing—quite clearly—that the federal government has a revenue and aging problem, not a spending one. The first shows federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 1981 to the present:
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff.
On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.”