Dysfunction or Bad Faith in the White House

Just as Senate Democrats were sitting down Thursday to a scheduled meeting with White House budget director Jacob J. Lew, rumors of a new debt-limit deal between President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) flashed across their BlackBerrys.One after another, Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.), Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and others demanded that Lew explain what the president was doing.

The Democrats were winning, the senators said. The American people were with them on tax increases for the rich and the notion of “shared sacrifice.” Why give up now? Why cut a deal without guarantees of new tax revenue?

For 45 minutes, the cross-examination went on, with few details offered. When Lew left, Mikulski turned to her colleagues and said, “I haven’t seen a meeting like this in my 35 years in Congress.”

Outside the room, Lew said he was “not aware of a deal.” Washington Post

If this account is true, that’s either dysfunction at the highest staff levels in the White House or some weird legerdemain to negotiate in bad faith with your own party.

So, is President Obama a brilliant Republican operator or a Democratic leader unable to coordinate with his senior staff? I’m hoping for the latter, but fear the former. Not because Democratic party cohesion is pivotal, but because a deal entirely of spending cuts would hurt the most.

President Obama’s much too fixated on deficit reduction to think the real problem lies elsewhere. Unfortunately, that’s just the case. Our primary economic problems are a jobs deficit and a housing crisis that destroyed the middle class’ main source of wealth, and not a deficit problem.

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