Obama’s shifts complicate debt limit negotiations

President Barack Obama answers question during his Town Hall at the Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of University of Maryland, Friday, July 22, 2011 in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The roller-coaster debate over raising the nation’s debt limit has forced the White House to explain away, brush aside or even ignore declarations by President Barack Obama and his top aides that no longer served much purpose in the unpredictable negotiations.

First, the White House wanted the debt ceiling vote separated from spending cuts. Now the administration likes them linked. Then, Obama adamantly vowed to reject any short-term deal to raise the borrowing limit. Now the White House says he could make an exception. And Obama pledged to meet with congressional leaders every day until a deal was reached. But the daily meetings stopped or at least disappeared from the president’s schedule.

The White House shifts have been less a matter of flip-flops and more a case of unforeseen twists forcing the administration to reposition as the Aug. 2 deadline to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its financial obligations draws ever closer. Friday evening, after anticipation of a deal had built all week, things fell apart when House Speaker John Boehner abruptly broke off the talks.

The White House willingness to change course underscores efforts to cast Obama as a reasonable and flexible compromiser in the face of Republican intransigence.

Perhaps the most notable shift from the administration has been on one of the most basic elements of the whole debate: Should an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit be linked to cuts in government spending?

The president’s opening position was a resounding no.

“We do not need to play chicken with our economy by linking the raising of the debt ceiling to anything,” White House spokesman Jay Carney declared on April 11.

But within days, Obama himself signaled the start of the White House’s shifting stance, saying in an interview with The Associated Press that raising the debt ceiling wasn’t going to happen without some spending cuts.

Three months later, the White House has fully bowed to that political reality, not only acknowledging that Republicans would block an increase in debt ceiling unless spending cuts are attached but also promoting the benefits of the linkage.

“The dynamic that’s created here, for better or for worse — and we think now for better — that has linked these two has focused attention and focused people’s minds on the need to do something significant around deficit reduction,” Carney said Wednesday.

The White House also has had to recalibrate its position on whether Obama would back a short-term increase in the debt limit in order to avoid a default.

At a July 11 news conference, Obama insisted a stopgap measure was not an option he would consider.

“The things that I will not consider are a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day or a 180-day temporary stopgap resolution to this problem,” Obama said. “This is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments.”

But as the Aug. 2 deadline for completing an agreement neared, the White House relaxed its total opposition to an interim measure. Now aides say Obama would approve a debt-limit increase for a couple of days, but only if a long-term deal was agreed upon and just needed time to work its way through the legislative process.

“That is a long way from the kind of six-month, nine-month, one-year extension, short-term extensions that have been discussed and which the president is unalterably opposed to,” Carney said Thursday.

The ever-changing nature of the talks has even meant that Obama’s straightforward pronouncement earlier this month that he would meet with lawmakers “every single day until we get this thing resolved” didn’t have much of a shelf life.

While Obama and bipartisan congressional leaders did meet at the White House for five straight days, the talks reached a point that all sides recognized that the daily group meetings stopped being the best approach. In recent days, Obama has opted instead to meet with leaders from each party separately, or simply call them on the phone. After talks broke down Friday, Obama summoned congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting Saturday morning on what happens next.

Political analyst Darrell West of the Brookings Institution said the administration’s willingness to adjust when the situation warrants could put the president at an advantage.

“Leaders have to adapt to changing circumstances,” said West. “And if they don’t, their rigidity undermines the political process.”

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Julie Pace can be reached at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC.

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10 Responses to "Obama’s shifts complicate debt limit negotiations"

  1. Pondering_It_All  July 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    “Obama’s Shifts”: Isn’t that just the negotiation process? This article makes it sound like every time the Republicans agree to something, Obama changes his mind. Actually, it has been pretty much the other way around. Anything the Republicans propose that Obama then endorses, suddenly is unacceptable to the Republicans! The Tea Party faction would say NO to apple pie and motherhood, if Obama endorsed them. It doesn’t take any rational thought: It’s just a reflex action.

    If no debt-limit deal can be reached, that will be fine: Obama can invoke the constitutional requirement for the US to honor all its debts. Then at the end of 2012, the Bush/Obama tax cuts will automatically expire, so Obama will get his revenue increase. All the House Republicans can do here is dig their own political graves. Even Grover Norquist has said that letting the tax cuts expire will not violate his “no tax increases” pledge. He can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a train about to crush the GOP!

    • Almandine  July 23, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks for the “inside” story as to what went down.

      • b mcclellan  July 25, 2011 at 11:40 pm

        Easy Al, at least we’ve established the President has a working transmission.
        Now we are forced to wonder,
        five speed, or an infinity of gears racing headlong to constitutional entropy.

  2. Carl Nemo  July 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Recently we’ve heard former President Bill Clinton, Tim Geithner, political pundits et al. referencing the 14th Amendment as some kind of ‘get out of debt card’…NOT!

    I don’t know where Bill Clinton, Geithner et al. get the idea that this “Reconstruction Era” amendment has anything to do with the government defaulting on its debts. Geithner comes up with “debt shall not be questioned”…say what?! This guy is exemplary of a sitting ‘village idiot’, our Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He must have his Goldman Sachs brain plugged in…! / : |

    All it makes reference to is the now archaic conditions of debt related to the post civil war era (Confederate financial losses), slaves etc. The amendment is linked to the “Reconstruction period” post Civil War and has nothing do with this debt monstrosity they’ve created in our modern times.

    following extract of the intent of the 14th amendment:

    “Validity of public debt
    Section 4 confirmed the legitimacy of all United States public debt appropriated by the Congress. It also confirmed that neither the United States nor any state would pay for the loss of slaves or debts that had been incurred by the Confederacy. For example, several English and French banks had lent money to the South during the war.[48] In Perry v. United States (1935), the Supreme Court ruled that under Section 4 voiding a United States government bond “went beyond the congressional power.”[49] …extract from Wiki article

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

    I’ve spent a bit of time reading and rereading the 14th and all I can say this is typcial b.s. from the lips of Bill Clinton et al. of the same stripe.

    We need massive cuts in expenditures both in the present and future along with a Constitutional amendment that mandates a balanced budget and plan to reduce the public debt over time…period!

    Carl Nemo **==

    • woody188  July 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

      “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for the payments of pension and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned”

      Of course they are twisting the original meaning of this amendment, just like the commerce clause in forcing us to buy health insurance. All the 14th says is that the validity of the public debt should not be questioned. Meaning it does exist as valid public debt, not that it must continue into perpetuity.

      • Carl Nemo  July 25, 2011 at 9:01 pm

        I read that too Woody, but to me it’s typical of modern era grifters as we have in office reaching into the past in order to justify their modern era financial crimes in high places. The 14th Amendment was linked to the “Reconstruction Era” post the Civil War.

        Regardless, if we don’t get taken out this time, we’ll assuredly go down within a few years or less. First it will be the collapse of the Euro currency, then the mighty tsunami wave of sovereign default will wash over our shores. The entire Western finanacial paradigm is held together with bandaids and bailing wire so to speak via red hot, unsecured, unregulated derivatives between faceless counterparties. They’ve turned high finance into a casino albeit a crooked one relative to the little people who are trapped within their criminally disposed paradigm.

        Thanks for further input to the discussion.

        Carl Nemo **==

  3. Carl Nemo  July 23, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    In addition here’s a link to everthing one wants to know about U.S. Public Debt.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt

    There’s quite a bit of hollow financial ‘promises’ that are “off the books” so to speak and will never be fulfilled…ever!

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. eve  July 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I’m thinking the fact we are not being told the truth ….again.

    • Almandine  July 26, 2011 at 9:35 am

      Say it ain’t so…

  5. Al  July 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    As someone who is neither a “hard line: Democrat nor Republican (I’m registered as a Dem so I can at least have someone to vote for or against in Primaries) , I’m as sick of hearing this political posturing (read: BS) as I am of hearing about Casey Dugard, to whom HLN devoted two whole weeks, almost 24/7. Enough, already! Give the Republicans their way (read: call their bluff) . When the USA has to pay 10% APR and the common citizen has to pay 25% APR on a loan, the Republican Party and the Tea Party will be ended for all eternity.
    Yes, the Dems deserve some censure for running up the debt, but so do the Reps.
    They sow the wind and will reap the whirlwind.

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