President Obama shouldn't have a leg to stand on in the budget fight. As I detailed yesterday, every shred of actual data points to unprecedented debt as a result of his policies, while his promised "savings" materialize only in some mystery world in the future. But he does have two important things going for him -- the fact that Democrats have a significant majority in Congress, and the fact that Republicans have not yet gotten their act together.
Facing some uncharacteristically tough questions about his budget during Tuesday's press conference, Obama turned the tables, taunting, "the critics tend to criticize, but they don't offer an alternative budget." Rather than wait until they were ready to unveil an alternative plan, Republicans took the bait. In a hastily arranged press conference yesterday, Minority Leader John Boehner waved a booklet, and boasted, "Two nights ago the president said, 'We haven't seen a budget yet out of Republicans.' Well, it's just not true because – Here it is, Mr. President." (Video below.)
Unfortunately, despite the macho talk, the 19-page document Boehner waved included general proposals, but no actual projections of how it would impact the deficit relative to the White House budget. Pretty soon, Republicans were downplaying the booklet as a mere blueprint of their actual budget, to be released next week. And the Politico reported infighting among Republicans, because some members felt (rightly, in my view) that it would be better to wait an extra week to release a serious alternative, rather than rush out a half-baked proposal with few specifics that would be easy to mock.
The Economist makes an apt analogy:
SCHOOLYARD bullies have a simple trick that usually gets results. Challenge another kid to a fight. If he declines, call him a "chicken". Presto—his dignity under assault, he'll come back and accept your challenge, and lose.
Today, Republicans in the House of Representatives got called "chicken", rolled up their sleeves, and got kicked in the mud.
Many conservatives continue to underestimate Obama, pinning him as some naive rube who is in over his head and unable speak without a telepromter. But, while his policies may be dangerous, he remains a skilled politician, and he played this one beautifully.
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