With President Barack Obama’s Gallup approval rating down to just 45% after his mishandling of the Syrian crisis, and with CNN reporting that only 39% of Americans support Obamacare, White House officials tell Politico that “Obama doesn’t see any reason to back off his hard-line position” on the looming debt ceiling showdown–a risky strategy that could drag Democrats down with him come the 2014 midterm elections.
On October 17, the federal government will officially hit the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling. While polls show that more voters blame Republicans for the current government shutdown, polls also show that voters overwhelmingly side with Republicans in demanding that any raising of the debt ceiling be coupled with spending cuts. Indeed, a Bloomberg poll found that 61% of voters believe it is “right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised even if it risks default.”
On Wednesday, Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) published an op-ed recounting House Republicans’ numerous attempts to avert a government shutdown and stating Obama’s refusal to negotiate on a deal to cut spending in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt limit.
“In just a few weeks, Congress must act to raise the debt limit to pay the tab for President Obama and Washington’s out-of-control spending,” wrote Boehner. “There is no way Congress can or should pass such a bill without spending cuts and reforms to deal with the debt and deficit and help get our economy moving again. But President Obama refuses to even talk about negotiating such a bipartisan agreement.”
For months now, Obama and top Democrats have flatly refused to negotiate on the debt ceiling.
“Democrats are unwilling to bargain on the debt ceiling,” top Democratic House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) said back in May. And in August, Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said, “The president will not negotiate conditions on the debt limit.”
Obama hopes that his defiant stance will shore up the fissures in his fractured political base. In short, Obama is spoiling for a fight to stop his dwindling numbers from their current freefall. This is especially so given that two-thirds of the government’s Obamacare healthcare exchanges failed to work on Obamacare’s grand opening.
And while that strategy may make sense for a second-term president with no more elections in front of him, Obama’s willingness to defiantly oppose any debt ceiling negotiations with Republicans and place America at risk of default could have severe electoral implications for Democrats in tight 2014 congressional races, especially since midterm elections traditionally favor the party not in the White House. Indeed, an unpopular president, an angry electorate overwhelmingly opposed to Obamacare, and a dysfunctional government that cannot negotiate on a way to pay its bills may prove to be the perfect storm for congressional Democrats.
In a few weeks, Republicans will possess maximum leverage in the debt ceiling showdown. Speaker Boehner has promised conservatives he intends to give Obama a “whale of a fight.” All eyes are on the GOP leadership to ensure that he does.