For the fifth time in three weeks, Barack Obama seized the bully pulpit in the debt-ceiling debate, this time using a prime-time speech instead of a press conference to do so. And for the fifth time in three weeks, Obama literally did nothing with it except to utter the same platitudes and clichés as he did on the previous four occasions. Obama offered no solutions, no specifics for a solution, and spent 15 minutes avoiding both.
And at least one media outlet noticed:
President Barack Obama elbowed his way back into the debt ceiling debate Monday night, three days after Republicans shoved him out, but he offered no hint of a solution to the escalating political and financial crisis.
Politico also got the impression that Obama was delivering a campaign speech rather than a solution to a crisis that Obama himself has hyped considerably:
Beyond the I’m-still-here theme of the speech, Obama sought to strike the larger themes of his 2012 campaign, aimed at independent voters who have only now begun tuning into the debt debate: the need for compromise, his disgust with partisan Washington and his determination to make the rich pay their fair share. If his campaign-style rhetoric was persuasive, it came at an awkward time, during the final days when a reasonable debt ceiling compromise can still be struck.
Awkward indeed. Obama repeatedly blasted Republicans for not agreeing with his approach while providing no plan at all, and modeled the need for compromise with … a campaign speech. Anyone listening to Obama’s fifth foray in front of the cameras this month — by far the most intense public-relations campaign Obama has conducted in more than a year — could be forgiven for wondering why the President didn’t spend at least some of that time actually developing and presenting his own plan.
The simple answer: Obama doesn’t want the responsibility for raising the debt ceiling, cutting spending, and/or raising taxes. This is what passes for leadership in the era of Hope and Change — voting present.
Obama has worked hard to make himself irrelevant over the last few weeks, and he’s about to get his wish. Harry Reid and John Boehner are now working on competing proposals for a solution to the debt crisis, which is what Republicans wanted all along. As soon as something passes in the Senate, the House can pass a reworked version of the bill and send the issue into conference committee. This is normal legislative procedure, abandoned by Reid with the Senate’s refusal to act over the last few months. A conference committee will produce a bill that will get up-or-down votes in both chambers.
Assuming that process works — and there is no reason to believe it won’t, having been used for 222 years — Obama will find a bill on his desk, likely one with cuts and no new revenues and one that may or may not take the US past the next election. Does he dare veto it? Oddly, as National Journal’s Major Garrett discovered, “veto” was one word that didn’t appear in Obama’s rhetorical blizzard. Reid and Boehner will finally get Obama out of the legislative process, a change that will not only highlight his status as the major obstacle to making a deal but also his near-total irrelevance to an eventual solution.