Let me be clear, as President Obama is fond of saying. The possibility that the U.S. will default on its sovereign debt is not the fault of the House of Representatives. That was the claim in today’s New York Times lead editorial, which says that branch “invented this crisis.” The House has indeed stalled negotiations, determined to block the inevitable tendency of our political leaders to wiggle out of making hard fiscal choices. Yes, we need to cut spending, the president allows, but when and where are issues as frothy as a skim macchiato. But make no mistake -- it is President Obama who should take the blame for landing us at the edge of a fiscal chasm. And, he did it by effectively breaking the law.
By any reasonable accounting, Mr. Obama failed to meet the demands of the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which requires that the president submit a budget on or before the first Monday in February. That proposal is then to be quickly scored by the Congressional Budget Office, reviewed by both houses of Congress and then either passed by those chambers or countered by alternative plans – all by the start of April.
This year, the president did indeed put forth a budget, which was so roundly criticized as meaningless and cynical that it could not muster even a single vote in the Senate, which defeated it 97-0. Rather than celebrating this rare instance of bipartisanship, we should recognize that for the purposes of the Senate, the president in effect did not propose a budget at all.
Meanwhile, the president’s own Simpson-Bowles Commission put forth some meaningful proposals designed to get the country on a more sound financial footing, which Mr. Obama failed to support or even acknowledge. At the time he proposed the bipartisan effort, before the midterm elections, some considered it a political sop to those worried about our $1.5 trillion budget hole. How right they turned out to be. The president had zero interest in pursuing suggestions – such as entitlements reform - that might endanger his reelection campaign.
As a consequence, little progress was made, and the clock kept ticking. Only recently did President Obama engage in the budget discussions, after being called to action by frustrated members of his own party. He waded into the swamp reluctantly only after recognizing that the 236 members of the House of Representatives who have pledged to not raise taxes meant business.
This is a mess. It may well spark another financial crisis. But please – let us put the blame for this dangerous brinkmanship exactly where it belongs – on the president, who should have seen it coming, and on our Congressional leaders, who failed to hold his feet to the fire.