President Barack Obama on Wednesday met with Congressional Republicans to discuss the path forward in order to avoid default, and ultimately raise the debt ceiling. The meeting went as expected, with both sides basically blaming the other for the impasse.
The most interesting exchange came when House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan said that leaders can either exacerbate the problem of demagoguery or tone it down. In his words, he thought they were having a year of cooperation with the White House and House Republicans able to work together on preventing the Bush tax cuts from expiring, and a budget for the rest of the year, but President Obama’s GWU speech was the opposite.
Obama, who if you haven’t noticed does not take criticism well, blamed Republicans for demagoguery. In reply, Obama said he was no stranger to cartoonish depictions, reeling off a list of conservatives’ favorite attack points: “I’m the death-panel-supporting, socialist, may-not-have-been-born-here president,” Obama said, according to people familiar with his remarks.
When Ryan explained point by point his Medicare plan, making note that it was not a voucher program as Obama said in recent speeches (and Jay Carney, the White House Spokesman, said after the meeting), Obama bristled.
In a press conference afterward, Ryan appeared disillusioned. “I said that we have got to take on this debt, and if we demagogue each other at the leadership level, then we are never going to take on our debt,” Ryan said.
In all honesty, there is fear mongering on both sides. That is always true. Republicans deftly used the spectre of Obamacare to convince the public that Democrats did not deserve the control of Congress.
However, right now, this is a President and party that has no plan to solve the debt crisis. In fact, most of their members refuse to accept that there is any problem whatsoever. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, now head of the DNC, as well as Senate majority leader Harry Reid as recently as this week said the whole debt controversy was trumped up. And frankly, Mr. Obama’s silence on the issue speaks as loudly as any comments from other members of his party.
Of course Mr. Obama, who called for ‘elevating the level of debate’ after Congresswoman Giffords shooting in January, at the time said that members of each party should hold their party for account. By the way, Mr. Obama…who have you held to account for this?
To Paul Ryan’s credit, he has taken this all in stride. To the above commercial, he joked, “Well, can you believe I did that all in one take?” Paul Ryan has not taken the assault lying down, however. He has spent much of his time recently to defending his plan…and attacking Obamacare’s raiding of the Medicare trust:
Obamacare kills Medicare. Obamacare raids $500B from Medicare to spend on Obamacare, puts in place a 15 member board to ration Medicare – of bureaucrats. Our budget repeals the raiding, gets rid of the rationing board, preserves this program, makes no changes to the program for a person 55 years of age or older, and saves Medicare by reforming it for our generation, but it’s solvent.
The president’s plan does not save Medicare. It allows it to go bankrupt. It rations the program and raids the program. We will stop the raiding, and we save the program from bankruptcy.
At the end of the day, for Republicans to expect an adult conversation from this President is foolish. Mr. Obama loves to demagogue, despite his other rhetoric. He will not admit that his statement that Ryan’s plan is a simple voucher plan is false; the plan would give voucher grants to people, who would then go to Medicare to choose which plan they want. It never proposes to hand people a check, and let them loose in a complete free market. Politifact itself stated Democrats’ claim (reiterated by the President) that Ryan’s plan would cost the average senior $12,000 more was a complete lie (or in Politifact terminology, ‘Pants on Fire!‘).
Republicans strategy forward is simple. When they get into the weeds on this issue, they will lose because Democrats will use the fear card. When they focus the debate on the ever growing debt that Mr. Obama plans to leave our children and grandchildren, with no hopes of paying it off, it is a winner for Republicans. Additionally, connecting these issues with continued unemployment rates is key. If Republicans can make that argument, we are in business.