Obama & Boehner: Can they reach a capital debt compromise

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., July 29, 2011 – As the debt crisis threatened to ruin the President’s birthday fund-raising events, it was obviously time to call upon the citizens to take sides.  In his address to the Nation, President Obama eloquently said, “The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government.  So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard.  If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know.  If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.” There are a lot of double entendres in those four sentences!

Did the American people vote for a “divided government?”

In the Clintonian sense, it depends on what the definition of “divided” is.  According to Webster’s Dictionary, the primary definition of “divided” is “separated into parts or pieces.”  It would seem that the Constitution already accomplished that in its first three Articles.

Perhaps the President was referring to the fact that the voters “divided” Congressional control between the two major Parties (giving control of the House to the Republicans and allowing control of the Senate to remain with the Democrats).  It’s hard to conceive of why the electorate would break up the Democratic “monopoly” given how successful it had been, but then, they did the same thing during the Bush Administration’s stellar years.  We can only hope that it didn’t have anything to do with the lack of establishing a budget.

Then again, “divided” also is defined as “disagreeing with each other” or “directed or moved toward conflicting goals.”  That can’t be the answer because we already had that in place without voting for any change.  Besides, isn’t that really the same thing as a “dysfunctional government?”

There’s one way to find out.  Let’s look up “dysfunctional.”

Well, that isn’t any help!  It just shows a picture of both Chambers of Congress with the President standing in the middle.

At least we could all understand the President’s plea “to make your voice heard,” and many people apparently did … on both sides of the issue.  This was rather unfortunate as the President really only wanted citizens who agreed with his position to make their voices heard.   When will we ever learn to listen?

President Obama also called for “a balanced approach to reducing the deficit.”  While the national debt and budget deficit are two distinctly different things, let’s not quibble over it.  As the President said, “I won’t bore you with the details.”

The phrase, “a balanced approach,” might be defined as “an equipoise between contrasting solutions” … but let’s hope not.  Otherwise, we’d have to look up “equipoise!”

Actually, “a balanced approach” sounds quite appealing.  It also suggests that the other Party’s alternative is “imbalanced,” which is always a good ploy in the world of politics.

To drive a few more nails into that coffin, always try to claim that the other side is trying to “ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before (it) ask(s) a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get.”  Then, tack on a comment about how they’d rather “ask a student to pay more for college before (they) ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?” 

There’s no penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, so throw in as many groups and social issues as you can to attract an emotional response.  It’s always better to have voters thinking emotionally than it is to have them thinking rationally.

Of course, you can always count on an equally misleading response from the other side.  Again, be sure to establish your emotional base as Speaker Boehner did:  “I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the President to identify a path forward.”

Then, use “balance” in the name of your Party’s proposal to offset the President’s use of the term (as in Cut, Cap, and Balance).

Caveat: If you’re a Republican, don’t try to inject humor.  It just isn’t within your nature.  Avoid saying things like, “(Here’s what we got …) a ‘stimulus’ bill that was more effective in producing material for late-night comedians than it was in producing jobs.”  Besides, it’s tough enough to get a laugh under normal circumstances.  It’s even worse when there isn’t an audience present.

Were there opportunities to inject a more clever repartee?  Of course, there were.  Imagine how entertaining it would have been had the Speaker been quick on his feet and not committed to delivering a carefully prepared speech.

President Obama deftly wove the following into his speech:  “Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment?  And I think I know your answer.”  Then, he added, “Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan.”

There’s almost no way for a Republican to trump a Democrat who plays the “Reagan card” … except in this instance.

Imagine how much fun it would have been had Speaker Boehner said, “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.  It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills.  It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.  Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.  Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’  Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren.  America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better” … and then added, “Those words were spoken by then-Senator Barack Obama.”

It would have been the equivalent of a political bar fight!

To give the two Party leaders a little credit, they did seem to agree on a few points.  They both concluded their remarks by asking God to bless us and to bless America.  Additionally, the President said, “For the last decade, we’ve spent more money than we take in,” and the Speaker said, “The solution to this crisis is not complicated: if you’re spending more money than you’re taking in, you need to spend less of it.”  When the two Parties can at least agree on the root cause, there may be an opportunity to fix the problem.

That’s where “compromise” comes into the equation.  “Compromise” can be defined as “a settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions to combine qualities or elements of their respective positions.”

The President appropriately has called for compromise.  He just happened to use the rest of the 2,302 words of his address to castigate Republicans for being obstinate, which is always a great strategy … unless you’re trying to elicit compromise.

Then again, a number of Republicans have been obstinate and have negatively influenced the opportunity for compromise.  They have truculently refused to consider any plan that includes a tax increase. 

Of course, a number of Democrats have been obstinate as well.  They have refused to consider any plan that doesn’t include a tax increase for the rich.

That’s what killed last Sunday’s near-settlement.  The Parties had essentially struck a deal when the President decided to add $400 billion in taxes to the compromise agreement. Oops!

Generally speaking, the President abandoned his 2008 campaign promise of creating bipartisan support in deference to what seems to have become the driving force of his 2012 re-election campaign:   the political homonym of “buy partisan support.”  He just isn’t willing to risk losing his base.

Still, you’ve got to give him high marks for chutzpah.  He has appeared on national television several times this week and ignored the fact that compromise requires both sides to participate.  The Senate has tabled a bill without debate; it has declared other prospective bills to be “dead on arrival;” and even the President himself has declared that he will veto any bill that doesn’t push the problem to a date that won’t interfere with his bid for re-election.

One has to wonder why an interim solution is not even worthy of consideration … unless it is a concession to the fact that our leadership in Washington, D.C. will inevitably wait until the eleventh hour to address it … just like they did this time.  It’s not as if they weren’t aware of the pending debt ceiling crisis.  Our “leaders” apparently like to stand on the railroad track while a train speeds toward them just to see who will jump first.

In real life, epitaphs are written for those who are so foolish.  In the political world, they just get re-elected for “standing firmly” on their principles.  Not surprisingly, the cycle then repeats itself.

Interestingly enough, the bill that did pass the House contained a Balanced Budget amendment.  While the Senate tabled it without a debate (much less a vote), the President already announced that he would veto it.  It was argued (among other things) that a Balanced Budget amendment would be too hard to pass.

The reason I raise this is because 22 USC 286 authorized the United States to accept membership in the International Monetary Fund.  Then, in 1978, Public Law 95-435 was passed to amend 22 USC 286.  Tucked away in Section 7 of Public Law 95-435 is the following condition:  “Beginning with fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the Federal Government shall not exceed its receipts.”

Hmmm … that almost seems like a requirement to balance the Federal budget.  Then again, we’ve ignored it since 1978.   So, why should we begin to impose it now?

We can all rest at ease because a compromise will come.  After all, Washington, D.C. is all about compromise.  As a verb, “compromise” can also be defined as an “act that exposes or makes one (or another) liable to danger, suspicion, or disrepute.”  That’s almost the definition of life on the Hill.

How often have our elected officials demonstrated a profound proficiency for “compromising” their principles or being caught in “compromising” situations?  Whether they’re tweeting inappropriate personal pictures, accepting gifts in return for political favors, or just not paying their taxes, we can always count on them to “compromise” some standard that the bourgeois hold dear.  Given that fact, someone will compromise something and the debt ceiling issue will be resolved … at least until after the next election.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.