Unlike most posts I write, I won’t have a lot to add to what Bob Woodward’s latest book, The Price of Politics, reveals about the behind-the-scenes struggle over the debt limit a little over a year ago. Woodward’s book is being serialized in the Washington Post this week, and this weekend’s entry reveals how close we came in the game of Pennsylvania Avenue Chicken in July 2011. One exchange, though, offers a very revealing look at Barack Obama — and support for an argument I’ve made ever since the stimulus flopped in 2009.
In a previous excerpt, Woodward related how Harry Reid and John Boehner had cut Obama out of the negotiations after a series of unacceptable demands and poor diplomacy with Congressional leaders. Later, when Reid and Boehner reached a framework of an agreement, Reid had his chief of staff David Krone explain the deal, which included at the time a two-step debt limit increase — which Obama had adamantly refused to approve. Obama angrily objected, which is when the Congressional staffer took the opportunity to chew out the President:
Reid began to lay out the two-step $2.7 -trillion debt limit extension, then stopped. He was not a details guy. “Well, let David just tell you what it is,” he said.
It was highly unusual for someone to pass the ball so completely to a staffer. The 44-year-old Krone outlined the plan, including a secret Republican pledge to count $1 trillion in savings from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward deficit reduction. That was surprising. Earlier, Boehner had not been willing to accept this accounting gimmick.
“I don’t trust these guys,” the president said dismissively.
Krone either would not or could not conceal his anger.
“Wait a second,” Obama said, interrupting someone else who was about to speak. “I can tell David has something else to say.”
“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”
Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.
This administration has never had a Plan B. Obama has never run any organization of consequence, certainly not any in the private sector, where executives have to constantly adapt to changing conditions and prepare backup strategies in case projects fail. Obama comes from Academia, where all of his policies work in theory, and so failure means insisting on sticking with the failed policies because they’ll eventually work.
That’s why Obama won’t produce a second-term agenda. It’s the same failed policies as his first, because Obama never has a Plan B. And that is disheartening indeed, as long as he’s in office.