“Grand Bargain” Sought on Federal Budget

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July 12, 2011

President Barack Obama recently held a press conference in which he discussed the ongoing negotiations to reduce the budget deficit and reach an agreement concerning the debt ceiling.  The President reported that he and House Speaker John Boehner are working to craft the “biggest deal possible so that we could actually resolve our debt and our deficit challenge for a long stretch of time.”  President Obama noted that there would be resistance from Democrats and Republicans, but called on both parties to work toward compromise:

There is, frankly, resistance on my side to do anything on entitlements.  There is strong resistance on the Republican side to do anything on revenues.  But if each side takes a maximalist position, if each side wants 100 percent of what its ideological predispositions are, then we can’t get anything done.  And I think the American people want to see something done.  They feel a sense of urgency, both about the breakdown in our political process and also about the situation in our economy.

The President concluded by saying that he would not consider a temporary solution to this problem, arguing that the United States does not “manage our affairs in three-month increments” or risk defaulting on our debts “because we can’t put politics aside.”

Writing for the Washington Post, Dan Balz contends that the speech represented a “political tightrope” for the President, as he continued “prodding Republicans to accept more taxes as part of any budget deal while making clear that he is prepared to endorse potentially major cuts to Medicare and other entitlements — a move Democrats oppose.”  According to Balz, this approach is taken with an eye on the 2012 election and a focus on political independents who are “willing to reward politicians who step outside pure partisanship to solve the country’s problems.”

Many Understanding Fiscal Responsibility blogs have asked students to identify potential areas of compromise between disparate fiscal positions.  In his press conference, President Obama noted that because politicians are often “rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections or obtain short-term political gain, when we actually are in a position to try to do something hard we haven’t always laid the groundwork.”  As the August 2 default date approaches, students could compare the political rhetoric today to that of the recent past.  Do Democrats and Republicans today seem more or less willing to compromise?  How do the arguments of both parties compare to those made during the 2010 elections?  How do positions taken during election season influence lawmakers’ policy decisions once in office? Teachers could use these questions to guide a discussion about the difficult but important process of compromise in a democracy.

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