Less than two weeks ago, President Obama held a press conference where he expressed his willingness to put entitlement programs on the negotiating table, called Speaker Boehner “a good man who wants to do right by the country,” and reminded voters that he’s “bent over backwards” to bring both political parties together on a debt deal. These remarks were designed to position him in the political center as a pragmatist that is above the finger-pointing and partisan bickering on Capitol Hill. In this primetime address however, President Obama struck a stylistically presidential and yet partisan tone. He scolded President Bush for squandering the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration on tax-cuts, two wars and a prescription drug program. In his last press conference, he was willing to take “significant heat” from his party. This time he aligned himself with his Party by characterizing the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan as a “much better approach” to avoid default as opposed to Speaker Boehner’s plan that extends the debt ceiling for only six months. Finally, he urged the American people to put pressure on their Representatives to agree to a more balanced approach to debt reduction and not a cuts-only package. This “going public” approach at the eleventh hour is a low reward strategy given that the debt limit deadline is only eight days away.
House Speaker John Boehner also delivered a partisan speech that featured more blistering political jabs at President Obama. He accused the president of going on a “large spending binge.” He stated that the president’s stimulus bill was “more effective in producing material for late night comedians than it was in producing jobs.” These two speeches are an indication of the lack of progress in the debt negotiations. In just a week before the United States defaults on its debt, it is disconcerting to watch the inability of our political leaders to reach a deal on an issue of such great importance. The prospect of a large debt deal that is needed to tackle the country's fiscal challenges is largely unattainable at this point due to lack of political will. What we may end up with is yet another piecemeal, kick-the-can down the road deal. Lets hope that members of both parties still have at least an ounce of bold leadership and bipartisan cooperation left in the tank.