President Obama addressed the failure of the super-committee late yesterday afternoon, delivering some brief remarks to reporters at the White House. I expected obligatory “isn’t this a shame” comments, but it was actually more interesting than that.
It was clear, for example, that the president wanted to remind Republicans who’s responsible for the breakdown of the process. Obama noted that GOP lawmakers rejected several large and fair debt-reduction plans, before ultimately opposing any plan that called for broad sacrifices.
But the president also explained that he sees the super-committee’s failure as effectively a first step, not a last step. “One way or another, we will be trimming the deficit by a total of at least $2.2 trillion over the next 10 years,” he said. “That’s going to happen. We’ve got $1 trillion locked in, and either Congress comes up with [an additional] $1.2 trillion, which so far they’ve failed to do, or the sequester kicks in and these automatic spending cuts will occur.”
And what about Republicans who now oppose their own spending cut ideas? The president explained, “My message to them is simple: No.” Obama vowed to veto any measure that would scrap the automatic cuts without a comparable debt-reduction package. “There will be no easy offramps on this one,” he added.
Think of it this way: Republicans agreed to a deal with the White House, and now Republicans are eager, if not desperate, to renege on their end of the bargain. That’s not spin; it’s just how the process is unfolding. GOP lawmakers, in effect, said, “If the super-committee fails, we’ll accept $600 billion in defense cuts.” Now that the super-committee has failed, those exact same lawmakers are saying, “We no longer want to accept $600 billion in defense cuts.”
Yesterday, Obama offered a response to the GOP: too bad. Republicans set the terms of this deal, then Republicans accepted the deal. The only thing that’s changed over the last three months is the GOP’s willingness to live with the consequences of the party’s own idea.
But there’s still plenty of time for additional talks, and in reference to lawmakers, he added yesterday, “They’ve still got a year to figure it out.” If congressional leaders — independent of the now-defunct super-committee — can come up with a bipartisan deal that cuts the debt by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, great. If not, as far as Obama’s concerned, the cuts Congress already approved will happen.
And at that point, the president shifted his attention to the next fight: an extension of the payroll tax cut.
“Before Congress leaves next month, we have to work together to cut taxes for workers and small business owners all across America. If we don’t act, taxes will go up for every single American, starting next year. And I’m not about to let that happen. Middle-class Americans can’t afford to lose $1,000 next year because Congress won’t act. And I can only hope that members of Congress who’ve been fighting so hard to protect tax breaks for the wealthy will fight just as hard to protect tax breaks for small business owners and middle-class families.
“We still need to put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and our bridges. We still need to put our teachers back in the classroom educating our kids.
“So when everybody gets back from Thanksgiving, it’s time to get some work done for the American people. All around the country, Americans are working hard to live within their means and meet their responsibilities. And I know they expect Washington to do the same.”