I think the generalized critique of Barack Obama as too willing to compromise is wrong, but as we head toward a sure-to-be-unpalatable deal over the debt ceiling, it’s worth recalling the longer-run context of this which is a series of bargaining blunders. Back last December when Democrats had a much stronger hand in Congress, they reached a deal with the GOP over tax cut extension and some additional stimulus. Since those measures all increased the deficit, many of us thought at the time that including an increase in the debt ceiling would be a smart idea. For one thing, if Congress wills an increase in debt, it ought to also will an increase in the government’s borrowing authority. For another thing, such an increase would minimize the GOP’s ability to launch a new round of hostage-taking.
It didn’t happen. Obama said he trusted John Boehner. Harry Reid said he didn’t want the debt limit to be raised by the 111th Congress because he wanted to force the incoming 112th Congress to take ownership over it. The results of these decisions have been a disaster.
What’s more, not only was the disaster predictable but even once it was visibly on the horizon the White House bungled it. There was a brief opportunity for the President to dig in his heels and simply refuse to compromise. Then the debate rapidly would have become “can John Boehner round up the votes in his caucus necessary to avoid a default.” Instead, the White House conceded the unprecedented point that even though Boehner and Obama agreed about the desirability of raising the debt ceiling that the White House should make concessions to the Speaker in order to obtain it. Consequently, you get what we have here this week.