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Obama: "We are not a deadbeat nation." (But the Republicans are a deadbeat party.)

The issue here is whether America pays its bills.  We are not a deadbeat nation.  … This is the United States of America. We can’t manage our affairs in terms of the way we pay our bills? … I don’t think anyone would consider my position unreasonable.

— President Obama, today

So President Obama does read Angry Bear.  Cool!

Seriously, folks, I’m so happy that Obama’s beginning an intense campaign to educate the public about the quirky statute at issue in the debt-ceiling campaign.  About what “raising the debt ceiling” actually means, technically–that is, an authorization for the Treasury to pay already-incurred financial obligations–and about what the result would be if that authorization is not made.

Now I hope he quickly takes up Boehner’s challenge, repeated today, that “The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time.”  As in: Oh?  The American people do think the United States should default on its already-incurred financial obligations?  Really?  Pray tell, Mr. Speaker, what is your evidence of that?

I hope Obama goes further, though, and publicly and specifically addresses the remainder of Boehner’s comments, which were:

The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.  Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children’s future. The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation’s obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same.

Responding to Mr. Obama’s remarks, the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in a statement:

The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time. The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.  Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children’s future. The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation’s obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same.

My suggestion for a reply to that:

Ah.  I see.  That’s why a substantial majority of your caucus insists upon no tax rate increases, no loophole closings, and supports the adoption of the Ryan budget that would add trillions of dollars to the national debt and, by its drafter’s own concession, wouldn’t begin to decrease the debt until … when?  That’s why you folks supported a presidential candidate who wanted to lower tax rates across the board by 20%.  That’s why you and so many of your colleagues supported the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and again, more nearly two years after 9/11 and after the Iraq war began, in 2003?  And that’s why you refuse to identify the specific budget cuts you want, and instead keep asking me to do it for you?

Checkmate.  

We’re not yet a deadbeat nation.  But the Republicans are a deadbeat party.

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Call This Spade a Spade: The ‘DEADBEAT’ Threat. I.e., Deadbeatism.

[I]sn’t it paramount the president explain to the public what the debt ceiling issue actually is, rather than allowing the Republicans to keep misinforming the public that it’s an increase in budget allocations rather than a payment for budget allocations already made?  This quirk in the law–the requirement that Congress authorize payment of costs already budgeted, already promised (e.g., in bond interest, Medicare payments, Social Security payments, veterans benefits)–is something that almost no member of the general public knows.

Obama keeps saying, in a single sentence, that he won’t allow default on money already appropriated and owing.  That’s nice.  But does he really not understand that this goes right over most people’s heads, because the Repubs keep telling them the opposite, and because the debt ceiling law is a technicality that most people simply don’t know about, and because that technicality has no counterpart in, say, normal living experience?

This is beginning to seem to me like the 2009-2010 ACA debate, redux–with the rightwing misinforming the public, and Obama thinking that the public knows specifics that the public flatly does not know.

So here’s a suggestion: Obama’s shown a fondness for adopting the Republicans’ messaging by analogizing the federal government to a family’s finances, even though this analogy, when it involves economic stimulus and other fiscal-appropriations issues, actually amounts to a misrepresentation of fact.  But on the debt ceiling matter, the government-is-similar-to-families analogy is exactly apt.  If someone already runs up large credit card bills, he owes the money even if he decides to rip up his credit cards and stop running up personal debt.  If he doesn’t pay the credit card bills he’s accrued, he’s DEFAULTING on those debts, and his credit rating will plunge.  And if someone owes monthly mortgage payments, he can’t simply stop paying them, and expect to keep his home.  He’ll lose the home in a foreclosure proceeding.

See? Not hard to explain.  But if Obama can’t or won’t explain this, some other Democrat who can garner the public’s attention should.  My suggestion: Bill Clinton.  And if Clinton won’t, then maybe Joe Biden can.

I opened that post on Monday by quoting from a Greg Sargent blog post from that morning, and so I “tagged” Sargent by name on my post.  I think he read my post.  And maybe maybe Nancy Pelosi did, too.  (Nah.  The post didn’t get that many hits.  Although I did post something similar as a comment to a Dave Weigel article in Slate, and Weigel “liked” the comment using the “like” button on the comment. Maybe Pelosi read the Weigel article and my comment.)

Anyway, here’s what Sargent wrote in his Morning Plum blog piece this morning:

It is one of the most remarkable GOP spin jobs in recent memory : Republicans are painstakingly redefining raising the debt ceiling as something that would constitute giving something to the President, when in fact it is something that is necessary to avert financial disaster for the whole country.

Republicans are being very transparent about the goal of redefining the debt limit on these terms. For instance, the Hill reports today that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are diverging on how to handle the next round of fiscal talks. Senate Republicans want a more aggressive approach to debt ceiling hostage taking than House Republicans do, in the belief that it is the GOP’s primary leverage point to get the spending cuts they want. John Boehner recently said he believes the sequester gives Republicans more leverage than the debt ceiling does, but Senate Republicans disagree:

Boehner said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester give Republicans their best opportunity to push Obama to accept reforms.

But Senate Republicans think the debt ceiling is a stronger lever.

“The debt ceiling has a fair amount of leverage. It’s the only thing that I can think of for the foreseeable future that the president needs Congress to do,” said a Senate Republican aide. [Sargent’s bolddface.]

Get the trick here? Senate Republicans are describing the eventual hike in the debt ceiling as something the president needs from Congress, not something the whole country needs from Congress. Of course, Boehner is already on record admitting in 2011 that not raising it would constitute “financial disaster,” which may explain why he is backing off the claim that the debt limit gives GOP leverage. McConnell, apparently, disagrees.

This is only the latest sign of GOP disarray around the party’s debt ceiling strategy. Even if the party is struggling with their strategy here, however, it’s worth noting that it has been successful in redefining the meaning of debt ceiling hikes. Note that this subtle redefinition of lifting the debt limit as something that would constitute a favor to Obama has passed almost entirely unnoticed, and has essentially been internalized and accepted by many political observers. Which brings us to the next item.

As the above suggests — and as polls confirm — Dems need to better educate the public about what the debt ceiling is and what default would actually mean. The GOP has successfully spun their intransigence as synonymous with holding the line against spending, when in fact it amounts to nothing more than threatening to default on debts that have been already been incurred.

Yes.  And I have one further suggestion: In explaining what the debt ceiling actually is, and what will happen if the Repubs do what they threaten to do, Obama and the other Dems should use a word that chrystalizes the Repub threat: Deadbeat.

Call this spade a spade.  The threat is to force the federal government to become a deadbeat.  And point out that deadbeatism–I just coined that word, but I won’t copyright it; the Dems can use it, if they’d like–is now part of the Republican policy playbook.

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