UPDATED: A Question For The President…

UPDATE: Rep. John Fleming just put out a release which matches the President rhetorical flair for rhetorical flair…

“ENOUGH Mr. President. STOP your demagoguery. The people of the Greatest Generation – our seniors – deserve more than politics and scare tactics. The plain truth is that if we do not have a deal before August 3, the government has the authority to pay the interest on the debt and cover other expenses. The choice rests in your hands President Obama. Would you deliberately choose to pay EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) bureaucrats or even YOURSELF over our seniors? If any payments are delayed to members of our Military, active and retired, and to our seniors, I will not accept my paycheck until they receive their checks,” said Congressman Fleming.

Congressman Fleming added, “Sadly, President Obama’s scare tactics won’t solve this debt ceiling crisis that he created with his big government spending policies. Instead of working with Republicans on this critical issue, President Obama would rather hold seniors hostage for his political gain. Once again, this is another example of President Obama’s failure to lead when it comes to fixing our nation’s finances.”

ORIGINAL POSTCBS News just reported that Obama said he can’t guarantee that Social Security payments wouldn’t stop in the event there’s no debt ceiling deal.

“I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, according to excerpts released by CBS News.

The Obama administration and many economists have warned of economic catastrophe if the United States does not raise the amount it is legally allowed to borrow by August 2.

Lawmakers from both parties want to use the threat of that deadline to work out a broader package on long-term deficit reduction, with Republicans looking to cut trillions of dollars in federal spending, while Democrats are pushing for a more “balanced approach,” which would include both spending cuts and increased revenue through taxes.

The video…

So here’s my question…

Expected federal revenues for FY 2012 are $2.6 trillion, debt service goes about $245 billion and Social Security and Medicare payments cost about $1.3 trillion per year. Meaning there’s still $1.1 trillion in federal cash flow available. Even if you spend $750 billion a year on defense – only $160 billion of which pays the troops – that leaves $350 billion to fund the non-defense discretionary spending.

So why is it that Obama is now saying he can’t guarantee the feds would send out Social Security payments on Aug. 3 in the event a debt ceiling deal isn’t concluded before then? What else would he fund instead?

On a related matter, this is from a blog post by Fox News’ Chad Pegram…

“217”

“We need 218 votes,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) as he left the Capitol for Sunday’s debt talks at the White House.

218 is usually the figure needed to approve measures in the House. 218 represents one more than half of 435, the total size of the House of Representatives. Good vote counters like Cantor automatically calculate “218” as the magic number for passage in the House. And in Cantor’s defense, “218” is the colloquial phrase in Washington for victory in the House. But for the debt ceiling exercise, the important number is really 217.

To wit: By August 2nd, the House is likely to have just two vacancies. There are open seats once occupied by former-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and now-Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). At this moment, a seat held by former-Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) remains unfilled. But there’s a special election there Tuesday to succeed Harman. So that seat will soon be filled.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is not voting.

Therefore, the maximum number of votes in the House is 432. 217 is one more than half. So 217 is the minimum number required to approve any debt ceiling agreement.

“80-120”

The next “number” is actually a range. 80-120 is the number of House Republicans who handicappers believe wouldn’t vote for a debt limit increase, no matter what.

For starters, the House Republican Conference has 240 members. Losing 80 to120 is a staggering chunk. That explains why it’s hard to forge a deal that garners substantial Republican support.

“Boehner has two factions in his caucus,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) on GOP prospects for passing the debt ceiling. “There’s ‘no’ and there’s ‘hell no.’”

Many conservatives with tea party backing fundamentally oppose increasing the debt ceiling.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) adds that some Republicans, like GOP presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), said they won’t raise the debt limit “on dogma” as he calls it.

“I would argue there would be fewer Republicans who would vote for this than the CR,” said Connolly of the bill that averted a government shutdown in April.

“CR” is Congressional short-hand for “Continuing Resolution,” a stopgap measure used to keep the government operating.

“57-97”

The next set of numbers is also a range, but on the Democratic side of the aisle. If Republicans lose 80-120 of their members, Democrats would be asked to provide anywhere from 57 to 97 of their 192 members to put a debt ceiling deal over the top.

“Traditionally it’s always been up to the president and his party to raise the debt limit,” said Cantor Sunday.

“That is going to be a tall order,” said Gerry Connolly about the prospects of Democrats contributing votes to a final deal.

Interestingly, the “97” number presents an important threshold in this application. In June, the House engineered what many regarded as a “moot” vote to increase the debt ceiling. The bill was stripped bare of any savings or spending cuts. It was just a straight up or down vote. The House defeated the package 318 to 97. All 97 members who voted yes were Democrats.

“59”

Like the digit “97,” the next important number in Congressional algebra also emanates from a key House vote earlier this year.

Fifty-nine was the number of House Republicans who bucked GOP leadership in mid-April and voted against the final bill to slash $61 billion in spending and keep the government open for business.

The House okayed the bill 260-167. But losing 59 Republicans meant the GOP majority needed the assistance of 81 Democrats to adopt the package. Many of those who voted no were freshmen or conservative lawmakers with tea party loyalties. In any debt ceiling deal, Boehner, along with the president, must finagle significant Democratic buy-in. Such support was evidently not there late last week when President Obama floated the idea of a “grand bargain” that sliced $4 trillion and restructured Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

A Republican source familiar with the talks said that Boehner realized there was “no path” to the broader deal, so he yanked it off the table.

“Speaker Boehner could not get the votes in his House Republican Conference,” declared Democratic Vice Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) of Boehner’s decision on FOX News Sunday. But the real problem was the internecine conflagration among Democrats over entitlements.

The president proposed using a government calculation called the “Chained CPI” to determine benefit levels for Social Security recipients. The Chained CPI is calculation based on consumer costs.

But many Democrats met Mr. Obama’s idea with a rhetorical flamethrower.

“Chained CPI is a fancy word for ‘we’re going to cut your benefits,’” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).

Rather than immediately board trains and planes to head home to their districts late last week, many Democrats remained at the Capitol for a special meeting of the House Democratic Caucus. It was that session which ultimately spelled doom for the president’s entitlement proposal.

“Let me just say their enthusiasm was such that many of them stayed around after votes to participate in this caucus,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of her fellow Democrats. “(It was) almost unheard of. But they did on a Friday afternoon.”

Pelosi noted that “high-tension wires” go up when talking about changes to entitlements unless someone “can justify the changes.”

And apparently no one successfully made the case.

“228-205”

On September 29, 2007, the House embarked on one of the most-suspenseful votes in its history. The country stood on the precipice of an economic meltdown. So the Bush Administration concocted a plan to rescue embattled financial institutions. The bill would create TARP, the “Troubled Asset Relief Program.”

Democrats believed House Republicans could deliver 80 to 100 votes to compliment the 140 Democrats who ultimately voted for the bill. But in the end, only 65 Republicans voted yes and the bill tanked, 228 to 205.

The Dow then dipped into a frantic tailspin, tumbling 777 points. It marked the largest-single point drop ever.

In that instance, Democrats were in the majority in the House. But the Bush White House couldn’t even drum-up the necessary GOP votes to help pass the bill.

The legislation returned to the floor a few days later. After witnessing the Dow crater, the House approved the so-called “bailout” bill 263-171. Democrats only had 172 yeas, not enough for a majority. But they were joined by 91 House Republicans.

The challenge with the debt ceiling is authoring an agreement capable of securing the precise mix of Democrats and Republicans to reach “217.” Many lawmakers remain spooked from the TARP experience and can’t stomach a repeat.

“3”

TARP ushered in a new era on Capitol Hill, that of the “nation-swings-in-the-balance brinksmanship vote.” The TARP vote was the first of this trio in the fall of 2008. The vote to sidestep a government shutdown this spring was the second. The debt ceiling could be number three.

Why is Congress suddenly saddled with these repeated dramatic votes?

Part of it is the sheer dimension and echoes of the 2008 economic downturn. In response to the flailing economy, President Obama crafted the $700 billion stimulus plan to fix the economy. Results of the stimulus are mixed at best. By the same token, the stimulus and TARP piled colossal debt onto an already towering deficit. Such profligate spending and mounting debt then fueled the tea party movement and the GOP’s success in the midterm election.

That brings us to this fundamental point with the debt ceiling.

TARP was hard. The CR to keep the government shutdown was tougher. And Boehner tells his GOP colleagues the debt ceiling is going to be harder still.

During his string of debt ceiling talks at the Capitol, Vice President Biden was confident that leaders could frame an arrangement that would pass.

“We’re being honest in (our assessments) to one another,” Biden said of the negotiators. “‘This is as much as the traffic will bear on my street. Well, this is as much as the traffic will bear on my street.’”

The problem is that the political streets which criss-cross Capitol Hill don’t appear to be capable of handling the necessary legislative traffic to approve a debt ceiling increase. Finding that balance represents the Sabermetrics behind the debt limit. It’s a bewildering equation that has stumped negotiators for months.

“10”

At the beginning of Sunday night’s meeting, a reporter asked the president “Can you work it out in ten days?”

The president simply replied “We need to.”

At Ace of Spades, Andy says it’s about time the GOP says “the hell with it, the debt ceiling is the debt ceiling and that’s all you get.” Which is, after all, more or less the position of the majority of the public.

If Obama really wants to take what is ultimately a looming partial government shutdown and turn it into a voluntary default, then fine – get out of the way and let him do that. It’s bad for the country, but like National Review’s Kevin Williamson notes even that isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is hitting the REAL debt limit; namely, the point at which the bond markets decide that the federal government is no longer capable of servicing or paying off its debt. At that point, we’re Greece. But we’re not Greece.

That American Thinker post by Randall Hoven linked above (here it is again if you’re too lazy to scroll back up) indicates that you could get by on a $2.6 trillion budget if you drew down defense spending pretty substantially (about 30 percent), got rid of the Departments of Education and Energy and zeroed out their spending and otherwise reduced expenditures for the rest of the government outside of Social Security and Medicare down to 2005 levels. We weren’t exactly Somalia back in 2005.

That’s not Greece. Sorry, but it’s not.

And the idea that the President of the United States is out there holding a gun to Granny’s head unless Boehner agrees to a deal which soaks the rich is beyond offensive. This is leadership? You don’t get what you want so you stick it to the most vulnerable people out there? Government-by-hostage?

It’s an empty threat, for certain. It’s still outrageous. And it shows that Mitch McConnell was exactly right this morning when he said that getting a real budget deal with this president is pretty much impossible.

But it would be nice if the legacy media would stop acting like paid administration stooges and ask Obama why he wouldn’t just prioritize the big stuff and help to MINIMIZE the effect of a potential missed debt ceiling deadline rather than threaten to MAXIMIZE it.

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