Enjoy the Perception of Victory. The Debt Ceiling Negotiations Are Going To Be Ugly.

How to Make Government Work
Jan. 2 2013 6:11 PM

President Obama Just Lost His Leverage on the Debt Ceiling

158785600
President Obama gives a press briefing about the fiscal cliff negotiations at the White House on Dec. 28.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Second guessing is oh so easy, and I always looked askance at those outside the negotiating room who had wisdom after the fact. But having said that …

Why did the president agree to a deal without the debt ceiling being lifted? Didn’t we play this script out once before? And didn’t the president, since he needs to be reasonable, in the end cave to Republicans who used the debt ceiling to extract concessions that shouldn’t have been granted?

Advertisement

This was the president’s moment of greatest leverage. The White House could have said to the House: Take us over the fiscal cliff, go ahead and have all taxes go up. You will suffer the wrath of the public—and for what? All we are demanding is that you eliminate a negotiation that will do enormous harm to the nation, a negotiation about the debt ceiling that merely authorizes us to borrow to pay for the expenditures you have voted for.  

Having won the rhetorical debate about raising taxes on the wealthy, the president could have framed the debt-ceiling argument in an equally compelling way. All eyes would have been on the House of Representatives.

Now we will face a much tougher moment. The House will demand a series of deep entitlement cuts in return for lifting the debt ceiling, and the president will have little to offer or demand in return. It is hard to imagine that even he thinks he will get the House to raise taxes again.

So what did we get that was worth leaving the debt-ceiling issue unresolved? Very little. Thin soup at best: little revenue, no grand bargain sufficient to calm demands for deeper cuts in entitlements, and a payroll tax increase that will still lead to a net increase in taxes for the middle class.

We should savor the brief moment of perceived victory that the cliff deal has created, because there is going to be much pain in the coming weeks over the debt ceiling.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?