Obama's soft response to Tea Party draws liberal criticism

Liberals are growing frustrated with President Obama’s soft response to the Tea Party after fractious negotiations over the debt limit led to the loss of nation’s AAA credit rating on Friday.

Republicans and Democrats have unleashed fusillades of attack against each other in the wake of the announcement but Obama has stayed quiet, frustrating his party’s base. 

“It’s hard to see how we avoid a Tea-Party recession if the president who has the biggest megaphone in the country is not willing to speak clearly on the issue,” Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, told The Hill in a Saturday afternoon interview.

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Ruben said Obama should never have allowed Tea-Party lawmakers in the House to treat a debt-limit extension as a concession to Democrats given the nation’s entire economy depended on it.

By accepting the threat of a national default as politically valid, Obama put himself at a major disadvantage in the talks, he said.

“It’s a terrible deal that will destroy jobs and big part of reason is because president accepted the premise that it was okay to hold economy hostage,” Ruben said. “Instead of saying, 'this is outrageous' and ‘You will not threaten the full faith and credit of the U.S.,’ and telling America what the Republicans are doing, he sat down and said, 'let’s bargain' and tried to show he was more reasonable.”


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Ruben said a potential default should have never been within the parameters of the debate.

“That table should not have existed,” he said.

Liberal activists were instrumental to Obama beating Hillary Clinton in the caucus states — which require more opportunities for face-to-face persuasion than larger states — during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

MoveOn.org endorsed Obama on Feb. 1, 2008, shortly before Super Tuesday, a crucial round of balloting.

Obama won the nomination by racking up wins — often by large margins — in smaller states with caucus systems, such as Iowa, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nebraska. Clinton captured large states with primaries such as California, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The president has been careful not to blame the Tea Party for the nation’s credit downgrade even though many Democrats and some independent political experts think he could make a strong case.

“The President believes it is important that our elected leaders come together to strengthen our economy and put our nation on a stronger fiscal footing,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement that seemed anodyne compared to the remarks of GOP presidential candidates and lawmakers.

“The bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction was an important step in the right direction.  Yet, the path to getting there took too long and was at times too divisive. We must do better to make clear our nation’s will, capacity and commitment to work together to tackle our major fiscal and economic challenges,” Carney said.

This type of response has led some of the president’s supporters to think that he is bringing a plate of muffins to a street brawl.

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann led the attack against Obama on Friday night.

“America’s creditworthiness just became the latest casualty in President Obama’s failed record of leadership on the economy,” Romney said in statement. “His failed policies have led to high unemployment, skyrocketing deficits, and now, the unprecedented loss of our nation’s prized AAA credit rating.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who is vying to win the Iowa Republican caucus next year, turned up the rhetoric even higher.

“This president has destroyed the credit rating of the United States through failed economic policies and his inability to control government spending by raising the debt ceiling,” she said. “President Obama is destroying the foundation’s of our economy one beam at a time.”

Bachmann voted against the final debt deal, as well as the Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) proposal. She also accused the Obama administration of "scare tactics" for warning about a possible U.S. default if no action were taken.

Obama may be trying to neutralize the acid partisan environment in Washington, which Standard & Poor’s cited in its decision to downgrade the U.S.

“We have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics anytime soon,” Standard & Poor’s wrote in its overview.

Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, who has studied Congress throughout his career and served fellowships in the Senate, said he thinks the Tea Party is more responsible for standoff that led to Friday’s downgrade.

“I think they shoulder a major responsibility for the blame. They set the agenda,” Baker said. "The advent of such a large number of house members endorsed by the Tea Party made sure that budget cutting was going to be on the advantage. They pressed their advantage beyond which a point compromise was possible." 

Baker characterized the president’s pushback against the Tea Party as lacking muscle.

“The president has to put some muscle in his rhetoric and go after the Tea Party as home wreckers. I think the president in following his own precept in being a conciliator. It’s great and quite noble but he’s in a situation in which he really has to stand up for things in which he believes,” Baker said.

Democratic senators did not think Obama used his bully pulpit effectively to set up the negotiations.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) told The Hill at the end of June “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.

They were more critical when speaking on condition of anonymity.

House Democratic leaders did not follow Obama’s example in reacting to Standard & Poor’s downgrading, placing blame squarely on Tea Party Republicans.

"The American people need the Republicans to stop their reckless and irresponsible political games that led to this unfortunate downgrade,” said House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.). “They have repeatedly walked away from the negotiating table whenever the two sides got close to a balanced blend of both spending cuts and revenue raisers.”

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said: "The indisputable fact is that until this group of Roadblock Republicans forced Speaker Boehner to walk away from a deal, America never came to the brink of a default and we never experienced a downgrade. This downgrade is the direct result of Roadblock Republicans."