Obama Gave Up the Store in the Debt Ceiling Crisis

The president gave up almost everything to raise the debt ceiling.

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High noon on the Ohio Clock, a gorgeous grandfather clock outside the Senate floor. That's when the end of an era will begin. Wasn't it called "Change we can believe in?” Something like that, a short era of pretty words.

The best thing Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid did during this ordeal over raising the debt ceiling is schedule the Senate "motion to concur" with the House bill at high noon Tuesday. If the Senate manages to pass something for a change, lawmakers will hand President Obama an ugly "victory" dressed up like a mule in a horse's harness. [See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Yep, a Democratic majority controls the upper chamber of Congress, but you can be forgiven for forgetting that fact during the broiling summer crisis, when it was often hotter under the Dome than outdoors in the 100 degrees Fahrenheit heat. In the Capitol corridors yesterday, veteran observers turned to each other to ask: What did the Democrats get from this? What did Republicans give up?

"Not a lot," is the answer to both questions. All Obama has to be grateful for is relief that congressional Republicans allowed the global economy to wake up this morning without having the world rocked by a U.S. Treasury default on the Aug. 2 deadline. Very nice! Entre nous, I fear he's made an unforced error of tragic proportions. Americans like it when their president acts, well, presidential at high noon. That's Bill Clinton's favorite movie, by the way.

Despite House Speaker John Boehner's fragile hold over his own caucus—with 87 wild GOP freshmen running loose—the Republican majority in the House dominated the debt limit discussion, debate, and media coverage. The Democratic Senate seemed like a passenger on stand-by. That's a shame, considering we the people elected a Democratic president. Ergo, Obama and the Senate Democrats should have strategized on a way to win and outwit Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor, number two in among House Republicans. Sorry to say it, but genial Vice President Joe Biden, a creature of the Senate, wasn't up to the job of checkmating two relative House unknowns on the political chessboard. The grim man from Ohio, Boehner, is now truly the"bane-nor" of Obama's existence. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, usually poker-faced, can't keep the canary grin off his face. [See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

Give them this. Boehner and Cantor, along with McConnell of Kentucky, proved formidable, appearing determined not to negotiate or even blink. Obama appeased them in the end and gave up the store of everything Democrats stand for. Social fairness is the first casualty because the wealthiest Americans will still not bear any burden for paying down the debt for two unwinnable wars of choice started by George W. Bush. The trillion-dollar Iraq War was especially useless—thanks so much, George. Don't lose any sleep over it.

Can someone remind me why Obama extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans late last year? They were scheduled to end in a return to the prosperous Clinton tax code, but Obama surrendered to Republican demands to keep them going for another couple of years. Seven months seems so long in a brutal climate like this—Washington under the marble dome.

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