During 2010, Obama deflected questions about his deficit reduction plans by citing the fiscal commission he appointed. For example, in July 2010, he said at a press availability: “We are on the path to cutting our deficits in half. We have put forward a fiscal commission that is then going to examine how do we deal with these broader structural deficits. So this isn’t just an empty promise. We’ve already started taking steps to deal with it, and we’re going to be very aggressive in how we deal with it.”
Yet when the commission delivered its verdict at the end of the year, Obama rejected its recommendations. And when newly-elected House Republicans rallied around Paul Ryan’s budget in April 2011, Obama and his fellow Democrats aggressively attacked the proposal without offering an alternative. Then, the debt limit crisis ensued over the summer, and for the first time, Obama actually agreed to some spending cuts. That September, Obama released a flimsy deficit reduction proposal, which relied on $900 billion worth of spending cuts that were part of the deal to resolve the debt ceiling crisis.
For a number of reasons, I don’t think it’s wise for Republicans to use the debt limit as leverage. But it’s undeniable that Obama’s first term sent a clear message. For Obama to agree to cut spending, there needs to be a crisis. If Republicans don’t use crises as leverage, Obama will make lofty statements about deficit reduction without actually doing anything about it.