Obama must focus on debt

Despite all the time and tweets the president and his team have devoted to more “economic speeches,” they know what the country needs, and what President Obama requires — for any hope of a legacy — is not more drivel, but a debt deal.

If Obama wants to pass immigration reform, if he wants his nominations confirmed by the U.S. Senate, if he wants to change the subject from the unsteady implementation of ObamaCare and the GOP campaign against it in the midterm elections next year, he must offer a compromise that cuts entitlement spending, embraces tax reform and raises the debt ceiling.

Forget talking about the gridlock in Washington, the obstruction of House Republicans and how speeches about the economy are required to “refocus” Washington on jobs and growth.

Even Republican voters don’t like their party’s record in Congress. A new Washington Post/ ABC News polls shows 6 in 10 centrist Republicans say the GOP leadership is moving the party in the wrong direction, while 53 percent of “very conservative” respondents said the same. The poll shows 62 percent of Republicans would like GOP leaders to work with Democrats.

There is certainly no need for better “focus.” Governing is a matter of getting to yes. For Obama, moaning over permanent Republican rejection of his proposals is no longer an adequate excuse. It only serves to make him irrelevant. 

Obama can easily find something the GOP will say yes to, and seven months into his second term with no compromises or accomplishments in sight, the time has come.

Republican demands to repeal or defund ObamaCare in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling aren’t realistic, and already Republicans have spoken out against the idea of holding the debt limit hostage.

But a debt deal that encompasses tax reform, and perhaps approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as well, are the only means of blunting the coming “thumping” that most experts anticipate in November 2014, when not only are Republicans expected to hold their House majority but possibly knock off more Democrats.

While cutting a deal will require work, it isn’t impossible. Yet, no matter how many times Obama — or his spokesman Jay Carney or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — repeats the statement that the president and Democrats won’t be negotiating over the debt ceiling, it’s a crock.

They will negotiate over the debt ceiling, and they know it, period. Obama’s approval rating just hit a new low not seen since the summer of 2011, the last time the nation was brought to the brink of default over the need to raise the debt ceiling.

Obama then tried to make speeches and convince the public he was the adult at the negotiating table, but it was a battle both sides lost and Obama couldn’t win.

Talking to the public won’t help him now, either. A majority of Americans don’t approve of his record on the economy and believe the country is on the wrong track.

Far-right conservatives, liberal Democrats and everyone in between want an overhaul of the tax code. Not seen since 1986, tax reform would be an enormous accomplishment for Obama. And because discretionary spending has already been decimated and Obama has agreed to several mechanisms for trimming mandatory spending, a deal on entitlement reform is doable. More revenue may be found, but new taxes are not an option.

Washington doesn’t need to refocus, the president does. Obama should avoid demanding things that will never pass, denying the country long-overdue tax reform, as well as delay or default. It’s possible to get Republicans to yes, and it’s time for the president to find the way.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.