It is getting harder and harder to take President Barack Obama seriously.
He has failed to show any real leadership as the federal government approaches the statutory limit on its ability to borrow money. Instead, rather than proposing a plan of his own he vacillates, at times whining like an impertinent child and other times hectoring like a Kansas schoolmarm.
Despite what he says, the sad fact is that Obama doesn't want to do anything that will reduce government spending. He may talk about it – as he did in his press availability on Monday – but the reality is that he simply wants to get the debt ceiling matter resolved so he can go back to spending. In fact, if Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl is to be believed – and there is no reason not to – Obama doesn't even want to wait that long.
In an interview with National Review Online, the Arizona Republican said that "even at the height of national concern over the country's debt and deficit problem, Democratic negotiators are insisting that additional spending measures be included in a deal to increase the debt limit."
"In discussions this week," the magazine reported Kyl said, "Democrats proposed extending unemployment insurance for another 99 weeks at a cost of $43 billion. In addition, they requested another $10 billion to spend on research projects overseen by the National Institutes of Health" without offering to offset any of this new spending with additional cuts.
Even in negotiations over legislation to prevent the U.S. government from defaulting on its debt obligations for the first time in history, the president's party cannot resist pushing for more spending.
It would be funny if it were not so serious.
In his Friday presser, Obama – who has presented no plan of his own to avert default – accused the Republicans of having no plan of their own.
To put it mildly, the president is being untruthful. The Republicans do have a plan – it's called "Cut, Cap and Balance." It's been introduced in both the Senate and the House, with the latter scheduled to vote on it next week.
Initially authored by Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney and Wisconsin's Rep. Reid Ribble, the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011 cuts total spending by $11.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2012, caps total federal spending and requires the passage of a federal balanced budget amendment before the debt limit can be raised.
It does not, as the president falsely claimed Friday, make any changes to Social Security or Medicare and does not make any changes to veterans' spending. It does increase the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, the amount Obama has asked for, but that is less than the total amount of the spending cuts in the bill and will only happen if accompanied by measures that ensure the federal budget is permanently under control.
Obama is betting that the GOP will blink, as it very nearly did earlier this week, rather than have the courage to stand up for its principles. He's likely to lose. Indeed he's backing himself into a corner where it looks more and more likely that he will have to give more than he will get in order to prevent default. All that needs to happen now for the dynamics to shift dramatically is for the House to pass the Cut, Cap and Balance Act next week and send it to the Senate – where Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid can either bring it up for a vote or sit on it. The question before the House is what will Obama do then?
If he acquiesces to Reid's failure to bring up the legislation, or allows the Democrats to filibuster it, he is complicit in stopping the forward movement of the one serious plan out there that deals with the debt ceiling. If it passes the Senate and he vetoes it, then default becomes his fault, and his alone. Either way he loses.
The smart play, indeed the only play left to him – in a political sense – is to embrace Cut, Cap and Balance once it passes the House, as it is almost certain to do. Then, and only then, can he burnish his image as "the great compromiser" who managed skillfully to avoid economic disaster on his watch.