At his press conference Monday morning, President Obama got a tough question from Major Garrett about the politics of debt-ceiling negotiations. In his response, the President blamed GOP absolutism for the crisis; then, as if missing his own point, offered a list of compromises he absolutely would not consider.
In his question, Major Garrett pointed out that Obama himself once made a vote against raising the debt limit and suggested that resolving the situation might require both sides to talk rather than posture. Obama responded:
Well, no, Major. I think if you
look at the history, getting votes for the debt ceiling is always
difficult and budgets in this town are always difficult. I went through
this just last year. But what’s different is we never saw a situation as
we saw last year in which certain groups in Congress took such an
absolutist position that we came within a few days of defaulting.
And, you know, the fact of the matter
is, is that we have never seen the debt ceiling used in this fashion,
where the notion was, you know what, we might default unless we get 100
percent of what we want.
The idea that it's the GOP which has been "absolutist" and demanding may be a narrative the media is ready to report, but as Obama's extended comments this morning demonstrate, he comes to the table with quite a few non-negotiables as well:
But what you’ve never seen is the notion that has been presented so far
at least by the Republicans that deficit reduction will only count
spending cuts, that we will raise the deficit -- or the debt ceiling
dollar for dollar on spending cuts. There are a whole set of rules that have been established that are
impossible to meet without doing severe damage to the economy. And so
what we’re not going to do is put ourselves in a position where in order
to pay for spending that we’ve already incurred, that our two options
are; we’re either going to profoundly hurt the economy, and hurt middle-
class families, and hurt seniors, and hurt kids who are trying to go to
college, or alternatively we’re going to blow up the economy. We’re not
going to do that.
Obama is saying there are only two options open to us. One is hurting families and seniors and college students, which is how he frames a failure to raise the debt-limit. The other alternative is to "blow up the economy" by making spending cuts equivalent to the increase in the debt ceiling. Obama says that option is "impossible." In case that wasn't clear enough, he says twice that he is "not going to do that." In other words, the spending cuts the GOP wants (and ratings agencies say we need) are non-negotiables.
But Obama wasn't done. Asked whether he would accept a short-term deal that would extend the ceiling for a few months, Obama also flatly rejected this:
No, not whatever Congress sends me. They’re going to have to send me
something that’s sensible. And we shouldn’t be doing this... and we shouldn’t be doing this on a one to three month time frame. Why
would we do that?
So serious entitlement cuts and short-term deals are firmly, indeed absolutely, off the table, but Obama wants you to know he's not the absolutist causing this problem.