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Opinion: Obama Misplayed the Super Committee

Monday, November 21, 2011 - 10:03 AM

President Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House. (Alex Wong/Getty)

I've been thinking back to how fiscally related debates have been going since President Obama took office, and trying to take a wider angle lens look at how we've gotten from the heady days when he came into power, to now.

The likely failure of the Supercommittee to agree on substantial deficit cuts seems, to me, to have been all but inevitable since President Obama and Speaker Boehner failed to pass their "Grand Compromise" this past summer. Since then campaign season has really begun to spin up, special interests have had more than enough time to whip both sides into towing the line and the partisan divide between the two parties has just grown too wide for me to have any confidence that something significant will pass.

President Obama missed the best opportunity he'll probably ever have, even if he gets reelected, to push for major fiscal reform, and made the biggest mistake of his presidency - in my opinion, by punting on this issue during his first two years in office.

Some give lump praise on Obama for putting together a Fiscal Commission, when Congress refused to, but they conveniently forget that Obama and company designed it so it would fail. Nearly one year ago, the Fiscal Commission voted 11-7, a super-majority, to send their compromise plan to Congress. But Obama ensured the Fiscal Commission would never see it's recommendations go up The Hill by requiring 14 out of the 18 votes, a ridiculous 78% super-majority-plus-plus.

The Commission's co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, put out their 'Moment of Truth' report in the closing days of 2010, when the President still had a majority in both the House and Senate. The title of that report was apt, and a bit prescient. I find it impossible to believe that the President didn't know that the headwinds facing major fiscal reform wouldn't get significantly worse if he waited, but he chose to put the package on a shelf and follow his pattern of staying mostly hands off in the realm of legislative wrangling.

Perhaps he's naive enough to hold onto faith in Congress, along with less than a tenth of the American people. Maybe he just doesn't think it's the proper role of the President to get as involved in legislative debates as past presidents have. I suppose he could be staying out of the fray for (foolish) tactical reasons. Whatever his logic, or lack thereof, he ultimately failed us just as much, if not more, than any other major political leader in Washington.

It's tough to tell if he'd be able to get his entire caucus to fall in line with a real compromise deal, on par with the Fiscal Commission, that took major steps towards making entitlement programs more sustainable in the long term, or whether there is anything that could possibly get the Republicans to vote for a bill with a reasonable amount of new revenue and cuts in military spending. The way things are going, we may never know.

What we do know is the President had his window of opportunity, and took a pass. He has no moral high ground to stand on in complaining that he can't get a bill passed now, when he had two years to push for one. The window opened even wider for a few weeks, after the Simpson and Bowles released their plan while the lame duck session was still in, but he again let it slide.

Like so many other issues where President Obama has been consistently disappointing, he just hasn't shown the sort of decisive leadership our country needs during tough times like this. Obama can talk until he's blue in the face trying to convince the American people that it's the Republicans' fault that we haven't passed major fiscal reforms, but actions, or in this case a lack thereof less than a year ago, speak louder than words.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.

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Comments [4]

Caitlin:

Unfortunately, the link you provided would not play on my 'puter. I do, however, thank you for taking the time to comment.

And I'm not surprised a bit that others have reached the same conclusions I have. I 'm concerned, though, that the others are so few!

Nov. 22 2011 01:54 PM
Caitlin

@Torus34 - you're echoing the words of Aaron Sorkin = http://www.wnyc.org/articles/its-free-country/2011/oct/25/video-club-are-secret-committees-good-they-sound-west-wing/

Nov. 22 2011 11:14 AM

Sir;

I'm afraid I must disagree.

The 'Super Committee' had an important function: to give Congress a breathing spell in which to get back to raising campaign contributions. It was never intended to do anything else.

Now, one of the two possible outcomes, a 'plan' or failure to devise a 'plan', has obtained. The committee's work is done. The cost was a few hours of the member's time, a sacrifice they undertook for the greater good of Congress*.

Election day, however, is ever closer. President Obama, acting in concert with Congress, has again put the question of budget-cutting aside by promising a veto of any legislation subverting the 'across-the-board' mandated cuts*.

In effect, he has taken the issue of budgeting out of play until the next president is sworn in.

So it's back to fund-raising and blame-placing, guys and gals.

Full speed ahead.

* Not to be confused with the greater good of the country. The two are rarely confounded these days.

** As I've noted before, these will be dealt with and defused at the appropriate time in 2012. And, for what it's worth, the party which occupies the White House won't affect this process -- though the pundits will discuss it to death.

Nov. 22 2011 06:44 AM

The Stupor Committee (compliments: now4yourconsideration) was not misplayed by Obama or anyone. There is apparently no one in either party, in either branch of government, in the media, or in the general public that provided the stupor committee members with the proper support that they need. All that was required by anyone was to make it perfectly clear that each and every member of the committee was to be removed from office at the earliest electtion opportunity if they failed to present a plan.
The committee itself failed not because they could not come to an agreement, but because they did not know how to conduct their efforts. This was not the case where putting a large number of monkeys in a room for a long period of time was going to come up with a plan through random effort.

Nov. 21 2011 09:01 PM

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