PAUL KRUGMAN: Man Up, Mr. President


PAUL KRUGMAN: In fact, Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here. Did the president have any alternative this time around? Yes. First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call. And even now, the Obama administration could have resorted to legal maneuvering to sidestep the debt ceiling, using any of several options. In ordinary circumstances, this might have been an extreme step. But faced with the reality of what is happening, namely raw extortion on the part of a party that, after all, only controls one house of Congress, it would have been totally justifiable. At the very least, Mr. Obama could have used the possibility of a legal end run to strengthen his bargaining position. Instead, however, he ruled all such options out from the beginning. But wouldn’t taking a tough stance have worried markets? Probably not. In fact, if I were an investor I would be reassured, not dismayed, by a demonstration that the president is willing and able to stand up to blackmail on the part of right-wing extremists. Instead, he has chosen to demonstrate the opposite. Make no mistake about it, what we’re witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels.  MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: A fair share of the $2.4 trillion in cuts is unpopular with his core followers. But the fine print of the agreement makes clear that Republicans received more of what they demanded than did Mr. Obama, who acquiesced in his initial call for a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenues, despite repeatedly trying to seize the bully pulpit to build support for his argument. For many liberals, this concession — and the president’s unwillingness to make a more full-throated case for greater action to address joblessness and protect other Democratic priorities — could undermine legislative support for the deal and increase the challenge of motivating voters in 2012. MORE

NEW YORKER: Of course, invoking the Fourteenth Amendment has always been a long shot, a last refuge. But Obama’s seeming refusal to hold it in reserve (“like the fire axe on the wall,” in Garrett Epps’s words) is emblematic of his all too civilized, all too accommodating negotiating strategy—indeed, of his whole approach to the nation’s larger economic dilemma, the most disappointing aspect of his Presidency. His stimulus package asked for too little and got less. He has allowed deficits and debt to supersede mass unemployment as the emergency of the moment. He has too readily accepted Republican terms of debate, such as likening the country to a household that must “live within its means.” (For even the most prudent householders, living within one’s means can include going into debt, as in taking out a car loan so that one can get to one’s job.) He has done too little to educate the public to the wisdom of post-Herbert Hoover economics: fiscal balance is achieved over time, not in a single year; in flush times a government should run a surplus, but when the economy falters deficits are part of the remedy; when the immediate problem is what it is now—a lack of demand, not a shortage of capital—higher spending is generally more efficacious than lower taxes, especially lower taxes on the rich. So it’s less surprising than it should be that in the debt-limit negotiations he has met Republican intransigence with an apparent willingness to accede to one Republican demand after another: no tax rises for the comfortable (the only kind that Democrats have dared to suggest); no new revenues at all, even from closing the most egregious loopholes; cuts in spending only, including spending on “entitlements,” the modest (by international standards) programs of social insurance for the old, the poor, and the sick that, through the decades, somehow managed to struggle into existence over the hurdles of America’s structurally divided and, of late, alarmingly dysfunctional political system. With compromises like these, who needs surrender. MORE

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