One of the most memorable parts of President Obama’s hour-long press conference on Monday came he was forced to face the issue of his own negotiating credibility problem. From the transcript:
OBAMA: Julianna Goldman?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I just want to come back to the debt ceiling, because in the summer of 2011, you said that you wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, and you did. Last year, you said that you wouldn’t extend any of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and you did. So as you say now that you’re not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling this year, why should House Republicans take that seriously and think that if we get to the one minute to midnight scenario that you’re not going to back down?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, Julianna, let’s take the example of this year and the fiscal cliff. I didn’t say that I would not have any conversations at all about extending the Bush tax cuts. What I said was, we weren’t going to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And we didn’t.
Now, you can argue that during the campaign, I said — I set the criteria for wealthy at $250,000, and we ended up being at $400,000, but the fact of the matter is, millionaires, billionaires are paying significantly more in taxes, just as I said.
This issue is not just that Obama has a habit of drawing lines in the sand only to later break his promise, as he recently did on the Bush tax cuts.
Obama’s behavior regarding the debt limit has been all over the map. Back in 2011, Obama seemed to actively encourage GOP “hostage taking” because he wanted to negotiate over the debt limit to get a grand bargain.
When that blew up in Obama’s face he changed his tune by claiming he would not negotiate over the debt limit again. Yet only a few days later Obama included a one year increase in a possible fiscal cliff deal, basically allowing it to be used as a negotiation bargaining chip by John Boehner. It is only because those negotiations failed that Obama has again gone back to claiming he will not negotiate over the debt limit.
Finally, Obama describing this current situation as the GOP holding a “gun to the head of the American people” is not at all reassuring given his past statements. The last time Obama used this hostage metaphor to describe a congressional negotiation it was to justify folding in 2010. At that time Obama said he had to break his promise because,”the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”
I will admit this time Obama does really sound sincere, but he sounded sincere almost every other time as well. If I have trouble I believing Obama is credible this time, and I can only imagine it is much worse for House Republicans.