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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is GOP Economic Brinksmanship Wearing Thin?

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews wondered aloud on Sunday if perhaps President Obama was starting to look like “the adult in the room” with respect to the struggle over raising the debt ceiling.
It’s a damn good question. The Republicans have been so rigidly infantile in their cut taxes and spending monomania that it seems likely an increasing proportion of swing voters have to be thinking “I don’t like all this talk about default and screwing up the world economy even more to make a point. Boehner, Bachmann and the Republicans seem more like angry children than grown-ups who are serious about compromise and governing sensibly.”
Speaker Boehner is still insisting on a $2.4 trillion deal, linked to a “dollar-to-dollar” ratio of spending cuts to debt ceiling increase. But President Obama wants a bigger, more flexible deal, and is holding out for $4 trillion package with a debt ceiling extension until at least Jan. 1, 2013. Negotiations resume today, with an 11:00 am press conference featuring the President’s update.
Ideologues, left and right want what they want. Middle of the road voters want to see policy compromises that guard against extremes and move the economy forward in a way that doesn’t penalize everyone but the rich. A common sense compromise might include a $3 trillion package with very modest, way-down-the-road entitlement cuts allowing the Republicans to save a little face, but significant tax hikes on the rich to give Dems some buy-in.
Progressive Dems fault President Obama for giving too much away up front. The frequently-heard meme is that he usually starts negotiating with the compromise position. There is merit in this critique. But the upside is that he is being seen as the only one who is willing to compromise with respect to just about all the debates over economic policy. This may help him get re-elected, argue progressives, but at what price?
Opinion data indicates that Dems may have an edge with voters in the debt ceiling debate. Asked in a Pew Research Center poll 6/16-19, “As you may know, unless Congress and the president can agree to raise the federal debt limit soon, the government will not be able to borrow more money to fund its operations and pay its debts. If the limit is not raised, who do you think would mainly be responsible for this: the Obama Administration or the Republicans in Congress?,” 33 percent said the Obama Administration would be responsible, compared with 42 percent who put it on “Republicans in congress.” (12 percent said both).
It’s hard to imagine how Republicans could have gained any advantage in the 3+ weeks since that poll. My guess is that the GOP’s zero-taxes-on-the-rich position has not served them well in recent weeks, and the Dem’s “shared sacrifice” sound-bite is beginning to resonate with crisis-weary voters as a sound principle of any reasonable compromise. A little amplification of it from the MSM, as well as Dems, could help — perhaps a lot.

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