President Barack Obama is being criticized by some Senators for not being forceful enough on the debt ceiling issue. This has become a recurring theme of the Obama Presidency: that he lags in providing forceful political leadership on some issues and finally snaps into action at the eleven hour after letting his political foes seemingly get the upper hand. His tendency to “lead from behind” has come under criticism (here’s one example).
What’s notable in this post on The Hill is what is said privately not for attribution. Here are some official responses where Senators used their names:
While Democratic lawmakers share some of the blame, they say Obama has not used his media power aggressively enough to educate voters about the complex issue, and that this has given leverage to Republicans in negotiations on a deficit-reduction package that would be paired with legislation raising the borrowing limit.
“I think he’s done an OK job but it’s a struggle because it’s complicated,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), a member of the Budget Committee. “He should use the bully pulpit every single day. He could do more.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the former chairman of the Budget Committee, said the public has a “lack of knowledge” about the debt limit.
Lautenberg said “the leadership has to be more outspoken and make the case.”
“This is the biggest courtroom in the world, and you can’t get a verdict that is positive without making the argument,” he said.
But in private:
One senior Democratic senator called the White House leadership on framing the debt-ceiling debate “feckless” and said he couldn’t understand why Obama hasn’t been more outspoken in calling for action.
A Democratic senator facing a tough reelection next year said it would be “disappointing” if Obama does not call out Republican leaders in the next few days for playing “Russian roulette” with the economy.
Obama might hear some of those concerns Wednesday, when he is scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.).
Business leaders and economists have warned the economy will be thrown into a tailspin if the borrowing limit isn’t raised, but polls consistently show the public opposes raising the debt ceiling.
*** Deadline? What deadline? Yesterday, Boehner called the Aug. 2 debt-ceiling date an “artificial” deadline. “Nobody believes the United States is going to walk away from its obligations,” Boehner said in an interview taped for the “Hannity” show on Fox News Channel. “Dealing with this debt problem and this deficit problem is far more important than meeting some artificial date created by the Treasury secretary.” Similarly, a GOP Hill source in the know told First Read yesterday that the Aug. 2 drop-dead debt-ceiling date is not likely as hard a date as Treasury is leading on. It could be pushed to mid-August, the source said. (But a Treasury Department official says they’re not setting the deadline. “It is purely a function of the government’s cash flows,” the official tells us. “We will provide an update on the debt-ceiling outlook at the beginning of July, as we have done at the beginning of each month this year, but it is unlikely that the date will move by more than a day or two — if at all.)
*** Remember the GOP talking points on “certainty?” However, over the past year, John Boehner and Republicans have railed against the Obama administration’s policies (on health care, on the financial industry), arguing they create uncertainty for the business community. “We’re calling for an end to the threat of tax hikes — and a fundamental reform of the tax code — to provide certainty to those in our country who create jobs,” Boehner said in May. “We need to move forward on those policies that will give our small businesses the certainty to create those jobs,” he added earlier this month. “We need to stop the regulations to provide more certainty for America’s job creators,” he noted two week ago. But the issue of “certainty” is not is not being brought up now by Republicans when it comes to the debt ceiling. If anything, despite calls from the Wall Street and business communities to CREATE certainty by taking this debt ceiling issue off the table sooner rather than later, the GOP is now doubling-down on creating a LACK of certainty for now as a way to gain leverage in the talks with the White House.
Obama’s political style positions him in a defensive position — not one that Dems running for re-election or who seek to hold onto the Senate like to see.
The continuing irony of the Obama Presidency has been the perception during the election of 2008 that if elected he’d be a great communicator and given his political election operation a political powerhouse. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.