"We've got to break the habit of negotiating through crisis over and over again," President Obama declared during his press conference Monday on the coming debt limit fight. We strongly agree. It would be much more responsible to confront the nation's problems in a thoughtful, orderly and transparent way when a crisis is not imminent, rather than wait for doomsday and slap together midnight deals that not even lawmakers -- let alone the American people -- have time to study before the measures go to a vote.
Obama would like to lay all the blame on Republicans for the harsh and divisive tone in Washington during his presidency. But judging by his first term, Obama deserves a lion's share of the blame. It almost seems that Obama needs a massive crisis before he'll even reach out to the opposing party.
Ronald Reagan was once known as "The Great Communicator" because he knew how to inspire the public to help his negotiations with a Democratic Congress. Obama sees no need to do that. At his press conference on Monday, Obama said he won't even negotiate with Republicans over the raising of the debt limit. Having divided America during the presidential campaign with contentious and irrelevant social issues ("the war on women") and rhetoric of resentment against the wealthy, "The Great Divider" is governing according to form.
During the first two years of Obama's presidency, Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Obama didn't have to work with Republicans, and he didn't. His $800 billion economic stimulus bill passed without Republican input or votes. Obama took his electoral victory as a mandate to do whatever he pleased. As he explained at the time to Republican leaders, "I won." That bill was followed by a $1.7 trillion health care law that received no Republican (and little popular) support.
On the issue at hand -- the massive and existential question of our mounting debt -- Obama has avoided dealing with the issue except when forced to do so. In 2010, he deflected questions about it by touting the fact that he had appointed a bipartisan commission to study the problem. When that commission rendered its verdict, Obama ignored its recommendations.
On Monday, Obama touted the fact that he had "made progress" on his goal of reducing deficits by $4 trillion over a decade. "Over the past two years, I've signed into law about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts," he said, later adding that "there will be more deficit reduction when Congress decides what to do about the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that have been pushed off until next month."
It was telling that he singled out the spending cuts that had been made over the last two years because those were the spending cuts he signed into law once Republicans had taken over the House. He only agreed to them because he was forced to -- once again, the only time Obama works with Republicans is when a crisis emerges.
Obama now argues that Congress should first raise the debt limit, at which point he'd be happy to discuss ways to reduce the deficit. The problem is, based on his first term, Republicans have no reason to believe that "The Great Divider" will work with them if they let this crisis go to waste.