CommunityFDL Main Blog

A Non-Post on a Non-Event: Debt Limit Stasis

Lyndon Johnson signing the Medicare bill, with Harry Truman, July 30, 1965

This is a post about the lack of progress on something. As you may know, the President met with the GOP caucus, and they made more progress on expressing their own hurt feelings than increasing the nation’s debt limit.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, architect of a Medicare overhaul aimed at slashing the cost of the popular entitlement program by reducing the government’s open-ended commitment to seniors, accused Obama of “mis-describing” his plan and implored the president to ease up on the “demagoguery.”

In reply, Obama said he was no stranger to cartoonish depictions, reeling off a list of conservatives’ favorite attack points: “I’m the death-panel-supporting, socialist, may-not-have-been-born-here president,” Obama said, according to people familiar with his remarks.

Paul Ryan’s whining isn’t going to make his plan to end Medicare any more popular. And likewise, it won’t get us any closer to the actual point of the meeting, a debt limit compromise. Republicans aren’t ready to have that conversation yet, hoping that the President will gradually cave toward their position as the clock runs down. Steny Hoyer doesn’t see any substantive progress at this point. John Boehner wants him and Obama to join the Biden debt limit talks and help reach a deal by the end of the month. He reiterated that today:

“I’ve said for months: I’m ready, our members are ready, and I think the country is ready, and the time to act is now. If the White House is truly committed to its own goal and timeline, it should put a real plan on the table so we can get this done as soon as possible. The talks being led by Vice President Biden – in which the Majority Leader, Mr. Cantor, is doing a great job representing us – have been productive. But the fact is we haven’t seen enough progress from the White House. If the White House wants to get this done, it’s time for them to step up to the plate and get serious about it. We’ve told the president – and we’ve demonstrated to the American people – that we’re ready to deal with the big challenges facing our country. I hope he’ll join us.”

Joseph Califano, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson, brought his own perspective to this debate, saying that the White House needed to use more of its own leverage:  [cont’d.]

Because of increased domestic spending and the war in Vietnam, the deficit grew rapidly during the 1960s, and in 1967 we on the White House staff asked Congress to raise the country’s debt ceiling […]

To our surprise the bill was rejected, 210 to 197. Enough liberal Democrats had joined Republicans and conservative Democrats to defeat the bill, attributing their negative votes to opposition to the Vietnam war, which, they charged, was short-changing domestic programs.

Johnson was furious. “There’s plenty of money for domestic programs,” he told me. “Tell them we’re prepared to put big public housing projects right in the middle of their districts to show their constituents how much money is available for domestic programs. Maybe that’ll change their minds.”

This wasn’t just an idle threat; he knew that a little hardball, combined with some well-placed promises, could save the bill. Indeed, after some choice conversations with liberal representatives — and a quiet commitment to conservatives to curb domestic spending — the increase passed the House on June 21.

You can read the whole thing. I’m not sure all of this applies. Johnson was mostly pushing members of his own party, not the opposition. The parties were not as ideologically unified then as they are today. Second, Johnson was resigned to increasing taxes, something that’s not really true, outside of some tax rates on the rich, with Obama.

But it’s true that Johnson was a master tactician, and he ordered the voting so that his goals – the Great Society, and sadly, continuing the war in Vietnam – were not threatened. Do we know what the President’s goals are, outside of getting a “win”?

CommunityThe Bullpen

A Non-Post on a Non-Event: Debt Limit Stasis

This is a post about the lack of progress on something. As you may know, the President met with the GOP caucus, and they made more progress on expressing their own hurt feelings than increasing the nation’s debt limit.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, architect of a Medicare overhaul aimed at slashing the cost of the popular entitlement program by reducing the government’s open-ended commitment to seniors, accused Obama of “mis-describing” his plan and implored the president to ease up on the “demagoguery.”

In reply, Obama said he was no stranger to cartoonish depictions, reeling off a list of conservatives’ favorite attack points: “I’m the death-panel-supporting, socialist, may-not-have-been-born-here president,” Obama said, according to people familiar with his remarks.

Paul Ryan’s whining isn’t going to make his plan to end Medicare any more popular. And likewise, it won’t get us any closer to the actual point of the meeting, a debt limit compromise. Republicans aren’t ready to have that conversation yet, hoping that the President will gradually cave toward their position as the clock runs down. Steny Hoyer doesn’t see any substantive progress at this point. John Boehner wants him and Obama to join the Biden debt limit talks and help reach a deal by the end of the month. He reiterated that today:

“I’ve said for months: I’m ready, our members are ready, and I think the country is ready, and the time to act is now. If the White House is truly committed to its own goal and timeline, it should put a real plan on the table so we can get this done as soon as possible. The talks being led by Vice President Biden – in which the Majority Leader, Mr. Cantor, is doing a great job representing us – have been productive. But the fact is we haven’t seen enough progress from the White House. If the White House wants to get this done, it’s time for them to step up to the plate and get serious about it. We’ve told the president – and we’ve demonstrated to the American people – that we’re ready to deal with the big challenges facing our country. I hope he’ll join us.”

Joseph Califano, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson, brought his own perspective to this debate, saying that the White House needed to use more of its own leverage:

Because of increased domestic spending and the war in Vietnam, the deficit grew rapidly during the 1960s, and in 1967 we on the White House staff asked Congress to raise the country’s debt ceiling […]

To our surprise the bill was rejected, 210 to 197. Enough liberal Democrats had joined Republicans and conservative Democrats to defeat the bill, attributing their negative votes to opposition to the Vietnam war, which, they charged, was short-changing domestic programs.

Johnson was furious. “There’s plenty of money for domestic programs,” he told me. “Tell them we’re prepared to put big public housing projects right in the middle of their districts to show their constituents how much money is available for domestic programs. Maybe that’ll change their minds.”

This wasn’t just an idle threat; he knew that a little hardball, combined with some well-placed promises, could save the bill. Indeed, after some choice conversations with liberal representatives — and a quiet commitment to conservatives to curb domestic spending — the increase passed the House on June 21.

You can read the whole thing. I’m not sure all of this applies. Johnson was mostly pushing members of his own party, not the opposition. The parties were not as ideologically unified then as they are today. Second, Johnson was resigned to increasing taxes, something that’s not really true, outside of some tax rates on the rich, with Obama.

But it’s true that Johnson was a master tactician, and he ordered the voting so that his goals – the Great Society, and sadly, continuing the war in Vietnam – were not threatened. Do we know what the President’s goals are, outside of getting a “win”?

Previous post

Why Is Michael Hayden's Desperation on Illegal Interrogation More Urgent than on Illegal Wiretapping?

Next post

It's Not the Bad Economic News that Surprises Me

David Dayen

David Dayen