If America Does Default, You Might Want to Blame Obama: “I won the election,” President Barack Obama said tauntingly as he stared across the glossy oak table in the White House Roosevelt Room at a bewildered Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio. The skies over Washington, D.C., were grayer and the air was crisper outside than the last time—August—that Boehner had sat in the Roosevelt Room discussing with Obama the outlines of what he liked to call the “Grand Bargain.”
Like the weather outside, though, the tone inside the White House had changed significantly from their previous August confab. Gone was the willing Obama looking for a fair deal on the nation’s out-of-control budget. That Obama had been replaced by the arrogant and intransigent man seated across from Boehner, staring coolly at his Republican counterpart.
It was December 2012, just a few weeks after Obama had won an historic reelection over the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan Republican presidential ticket of that year. President Obama took his electoral victory to mean he could clear the decks in the nation’s capital.
He wanted to hit the reset button legislatively because the forty-fourth president was under the erroneous belief that his reelection in November had given him enormous political capital to spend—and to push the Republicans in Washington around.
A History of Extremism from the Democrats
What the president did not understand (or care to acknowledge) was that his victory in 2012 did not yield a mandate. The Republicans lost the White House. But they had expanded their majority in the United States House of Representatives.
While that may not have as much cachet with the mainstream media or the Democrats, who held the White House at the time, in our system of government that gave the GOP leverage.
The Grand Bargain was Boehner’s idea.
A lifelong conservative from humble beginnings in Ohio, Boehner came to Washington in the early 1990s as a reformer and someone opposed to the way the government mishandled the Savings-and-Loan Crisis. He soon became a key leader under then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) where he proudly brandished his conservative bona fides in the heady culture wars that defined 1990s America.
Boehner wasn’t a firebreather, though. He was a technocrat at heart. Boehner believed in the institution of the House of Representatives and thought that once he was made speaker, he could navigate for the Republican Party and the country the tough road of balancing America’s bloated budget by working with President Obama and his Democrats.
When Obama approached Boehner about what could be done about the budget in 2011, shortly after the Republicans swept the midterms that year, Boehner countered Obama with an even larger vision: the Grand Bargain.
It was the kind of thing a man with Boehner’s experience and insight into the nation’s capital could envisage. He and Obama would not just address the immediate budgetary concerns. Instead, they would come up with a comprehensive solution to Washington’s chronic overspending problem.
Throughout 2011, Boehner engaged in covert shuttle diplomacy, secreting himself between his elephantine congressional offices and the White House. Few others in the House GOP knew what Boehner was up to. Not even his number two in the House, then-Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), who was a firebreather in terms of ideology.
Ultimately, Cantor and the other House GOP members discovered what Boehner had been up to and tried to stop it. When that didn’t work, Cantor started accompanying Boehner to the White House, making his visits with the forty-fourth president increasingly hostile.
Even that complication did not stop Obama and Boehner from coming a rough agreement. In exchange for $800 billion in revenue increases, the Democrats would give the Republicans sweeping cuts on multiple social programs.
The Senate Republicans messed up Boehner’s carefully laid plans when they offered additional revenue increases. Once Obama got wind of that, he put the squeeze on Boehner, to try to force Boehner to concede more revenue increases.
This was a non-starter for Boehner, who understood that his Tea Party Caucus would prevent that from happening. Obama knew it, too. The president iced the deal.
Boehner never stopped fighting for that deal, though. He knew the Grand Bargain could solidify his place in history, and he believed it would also save the country from economic oblivion.
Once the 2012 Presidential Election was decided in favor of Obama, that all changed. The president wasn’t interested in talking to Boehner. He wanted instead to dictate to the Republicans.
Obama’s refusal to take the deal that he initially favored; to change the rules of the game mid-game, killed any chance of the Grand Bargain from happening.
The Fiscal Cliff
Today, we are at the end of that long road that Obama-Biden placed us on.
On June 1 of this year, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen ominously warned that the US government will run out of money. June is the time when the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid any significant economic downturn.
The problem is that Washington’s leaders have known about that date for months. Yet, they did nothing to address it. May 9—just a few weeks before the US economy is set to default, President Joe Biden is slated to meet with the current Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to begin negotiations.
Is that enough time? Or will the negotiations merely devolve into a partisan screaming match that exacerbates the Washington division rather than ameliorate it?
The Fruits of Obama’s Failure
The bottom line is, though, there is a pathway forward to resolving the debt ceiling issue forever. By rehabilitating the Boehner-era Grand Bargain, Washington can move the United States toward long-term fiscal solvency.
Alas, just as with Obama, the Democrats are far too extreme to brook any kind of negotiation with the Republicans on this matter. They will instead caterwaul about how crazy the Republicans are and watch as everything burns—blaming the Republicans all the way.
President Obama’s ego put us here over a decade ago. Let’s pray that both Biden and Kevin McCarthy can work something out.
Otherwise, it’s another Great Depression for us. I won’t hold my breath.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.