Even people who don’t follow politics closely must know that for many weeks, Republicans have been playing a game of chicken with the debt ceiling vote.
They have been trying to extort various trillions in budget cuts, all from the people who will be most harmed while leaving the richest individuals and corporations untouched by their sham “shared sacrifice” austerity.
Throughout this charade, President Obama mostly caved to Republican demands, repeating Republican talking points verbatim, so much so that it was becoming difficult to tell the difference between him and Republican House Speaker John Boehner. Nevertheless, every time he caved, the Republicans said, wait, wait, that’s not enough. We want more.
As deeply disappointing as Obama’s actions were, he had not stooped to the chicken game the Republicans had been playing. Until this week.
On Monday, at a news conference, he went further than even the Republicans had dared, all but giving away Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid:
”…it is possible for us to construct a package that would be balanced,” he said, “would share sacrifice, would involve both parties taking on their sacred cows, would involve some meaningful changes to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid…”
Then, in that same news conference, he went the full monty – he would refuse to sign a stop-gap debt ceiling bill of 30, 60 or 90 days, an act that would plunge the country into default and economic chaos.
On Tuesday, President Obama doubled down, telling CBS News anchor, Scott Pelley, that if the debt ceiling is not raised by the deadline, August Social Security checks were at risk. (This video requires a Flash plugin. If you cannot view it, the text is below the video.)
“This is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out…I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3 if we haven’t resolved this issue, because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.”
With that statement, the president told Americans that if the game of chicken didn’t end immediately and the debt ceiling be raised, there would be no August checks and that would be on the Republicans’ heads.
By the end of the day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) had capitulated offering a plan to transfer the power to raise the debt ceiling from Congress to the president until the end of his term, thus avoiding a possible failed vote due to tea party extremists. (One has to suspect too, that part of the capitulation was a result of Wall Street telling Congressional Republicans, “Enough!”)
To not give away the game, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said only that he would give McConnell’s plan a close look. Bottom line: The debt ceiling will be raised and the budget can be addressed separately without any more threats to blow up the economy.
We probably won’t know until President Obama writes his memoir, but I’m torn between two thoughts on what he did Monday and Tuesday: One: fed up with the protracted talks going nowhere, he took a long shot and happened to win.
Or two: he planned this. He let the argument go on for weeks and weeks until the Republicans had dug themselves such a deep hole that the threat of a potential political catastrophe – no Social Security and veterans’ checks – could be used to bury them on this issue.
Given how Washington operates these days, I suppose this agreement could fall apart, but I doubt it; we’re too close to the debt ceiling deadline to fool around anymore. But don’t think cuts to Social Security and Medicare die with this standoff. I suspect Republicans will be even more fierce in those efforts now.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: P.E. Classes