Two weeks from now, President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, will meet again—but not to hammer out a deficit deal. They’ll be playing in another sandbox, chipping away at key issues as they look for holes in each other’s arguments while playing golf at a course not yet disclosed. The event was confirmed by the White House on Friday.
Obama and Boehner have clearly staked-out different positions on the $14.3 trillion-dollar debt ceiling, which must be raised by August 2 in order to avoid the first default in U.S. history. If they do try to navigate through the hazards of the course, they’ll likely discuss the dismal jobs report released on Friday showing that employers added just 54,000 jobs in May – the slowest pace in eight months and far below the 150,000 gain analysts had expected – and the 2012 presidential election, in which Obama may tee off against one of the eight potential GOP presidential candidates who have already tossed their hats in the ring.
But as the Obama-Boehner links outing looms, a few things are clear:
* Golf is a highly social game. “Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had were at the golf club,” said Bob Newhart, the comedian and longtime golf aficionado, in his book I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! So it’s entirely possible that the two men, who both enjoy the game of golf – though Boehner rated higher than the president in Golf Digest's ranking of D.C. golfers; Boehner came in at #43 while Obama came in #108 – could at least share a few agreeable thoughts, as they drive and putt, that swift, decisive action must be taken to get the country on a more secure fiscal and economic footing.
* Golf helps people relax. The great sportswriter Rick Reilly, in his book Who’s Your Caddy?, describes how Donald Trump, “when asked to list the top 10 things that helped him climb his way back from $9.2 billion in debt in the 1990s – the largest financial comeback in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records – Trump’s number 1 [answer] was, ‘Play golf.’” Trump once wrote, “It took my mind off my troubles,” says Reilly. Trump’s aborted presidential candidacy aside, golf offers a release from highly charged and thorny political debates and negotiations – and just getting out in the open air, assuming huge entourages aren’t hovering nearby and that it isn’t 100 degrees in the shade on June 18, just might help Obama and Boehner find some welcome down time.
* Golf can be useful in closing deals. Lyndon B. Johnson reportedly played the game with senators to nail down votes for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dwight Eisenhower liked the game so much he kept a green outside the Oval Office, and John F. Kennedy, despite a bad back, played so well he is still ranked #1 – with an average score of 80 – among all golfing presidents. Since an average game of 18 holes takes between four and five hours, Obama and Boehner will have plenty of time to work things out – should events, of course, go in that direction.
One thing Speaker Boehner might be wise to consider: “In politics, never go out on a golf course and beat the President.” Who said that? Oh yes – LBJ.
Shouts of Fore and Budget Talks (The NY Times)
Obama Invites Boehner for Golfing Summit as Talks on U.S. Spending Drag On (Bloomberg)