by Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.comFor President Barack Obama, a leader who prefers negotiation to confrontation, the next seven days of haggling with Republican leaders over raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling will likely define his presidency while seriously testing his leadership, his patience, his faith –and his perceived turn-the-other-cheek philosophy of governing.
Obama, who probably glanced at his watch minutes before addressing the nation in a history-making prime-time speech Monday night, told Americans that time is running out.
In just seven days, Obama, who is facing a potential catastrophic financial crisis in government, perhaps still believes that most people, Republicans included, have good intentions and are motivated by an enduring human spirit.
But even the often unflappable Obama is becoming annoyed, frustrated and seemingly impatient with Republicans, who appear unwilling to back off of their plan to slash critical social programs for the nation’s most vulnerable Americans. For many African-Americans, who are experiencing a shocking 16.2 percent black unemployment rate, the GOP wants to subject them to even more financial hardships.
Republican House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner is playing political theatrics to appeal to his conservative constituency and doesn’t want to meet Obama halfway on any deals regarding the debt ceiling controversy. And so Obama, ever the conciliatory mediator, has again gone that extra mile to negotiate with Boehner.
The president should be commended for his skills to bring people to the table in the spirit of candid talks, but this time, Obama should bring a set of brass knuckles to these meetings with Republicans because GOP leaders never fight fair, and they always re-create their own rules of engagement to suit their particular political agenda.
“This is a city where ‘compromise’ is becoming a dirty word,” Obama said during his 15-minute appeal to the nation.
Boehner, in fact, has rejected all of Obama’s suggestions and overtures, has walked out on the president, has belittled Obama in the media and offered his own GOP rebuttal Monday evening to further scold Obama for his failed stewardship.
As of today, talks between Democrats and Republicans have broken down completely, and Obama and Boehner aren’t talking – or at least not talking directly to each other.
“The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today,” Boehner said in a five-minute rebuttal after Obama’s address. “That is just not going to happen.”
So what now?
Obama told Americans that for the last decade, the government has spent more money than we take in. In the year 2000, he explained, the government had a budget surplus. But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation’s credit card. As a result, Obama said, the deficit was on track to top $1 trillion the year he took office.
“Defaulting on our obligations,” Obama said, “is a reckless and irresponsible outcome to this debate.”
In short, if Obama and Boehner can’t come to some mutual compromise by Aug. 2, then Americans are looking at federal financial anarchy.
The debt ceiling debacle has cut into Obama’s approval rating, which has dropped to 45 percent, according a new CNN/ORC International poll. The new poll shows that 38 percent disapprove of Obama because he has been too liberal, but 13 percent say he has not been liberal enough, nearly double those who felt that way in May. His approval rating among liberals is at 71 percent, an all-time low for his presidency. Overall, those who disapprove of Obama is at 54 percent, tying an all-time low hit just before November’s midterm elections.
Obama’s leadership qualities have earned him praise among his supporters, but he has also been widely criticized by prominent black leaders who say his willingness to cut deals with Republicans are undermining critical social programs for African-Americans while giving Democrats the appearance – perceived or real – that he’s not in control of a Democratic-controlled agenda.
But on Monday night, Obama, correctly, laid the problem at the doorstep of GOP leaders.
“The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach – an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all,” Obama said.
“To make matters worse, the recession meant that there was less money coming in, and it required us to spend even more – on tax cuts for middle-class families; on unemployment insurance; on aid to states so we could prevent more teachers and firefighters and police officers from being laid off,” he added. “These emergency steps also added to the deficit. … And we won’t have enough money to make job-creating investments in things like education and infrastructure, or pay for vital programs like Medicare and Medicaid.”
White House aides told BlackAmericaWeb.com, however, that Obama is not only committed to a debt-ceiling deal with the GOP, but that he “gets it.” He understands how the debt ceiling debacle impacts African-Americans, who are facing a staggering 16.2 percent unemployment rate, and he is focused on the need for his administration to address the problem.
Meanwhile, Boehner, who said he put a deficit-reduction plan on the table for Obama to consider last week, disrespected the president by walking out of the White House meeting, only to be called out by Obama in a Friday afternoon press conference and ordered back to the White House over the weekend to hammer out a deal.
Sadly, that didn’t work either.
Obama said Monday that he just wants all Americans to shoulder an equal share of the burden.
“Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get,” Obama said. “How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?”
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