President Obama and Speaker Boehner Deliver Primetime Speeches

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July 26, 2011

President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner both delivered primetime addresses last night outlining competing plans to address the federal budget deficit and national debt.  President Obama began by noting that “neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, [and] both parties have a responsibility to solve it.”  He then outlined two different approaches: a balanced approach that includes spending cuts and tax increases, and a “cuts-only” approach that does not raise taxes.  The President continued:

So the debate right now isn’t about whether we need to make tough choices.  Democrats and Republicans agree on the amount of deficit reduction we need.  The debate is about how it should be done.  Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get…

That’s not right.  It’s not fair.  We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country -– things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.

Though the President was critical of a “significant number of Republicans in Congress,” he gave credit to Speaker of the House Boehner for working toward compromise over the last several weeks.   Speaker Boehner took a different approach, arguing that the President “wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today.”  The Speaker continued:

The president has often said we need a ‘balanced’ approach — which in Washington means: we spend more… you pay more. Having run a small business, I know those tax increases will destroy jobs.

The president is adamant that we cannot make fundamental changes to our entitlement programs. As the father of two daughters, I know these programs won’t be there for them and their kids unless significant action is taken now.

Covering the story for the New York Times, Carl Hulse and Jackie Calmes wrote that following a day of “legislative chess moves, back-to-back party caucuses and closed-door meetings” the leaders’ “separate speeches reflected that the two sides are farther apart than ever.” Hulse and Calmes report that neither side appeared willing to compromise during news conferences on Capitol Hill earlier in the day, “creating a distinct air of uncertainty around the Capitol about how the debt limit conflict would end.”

Over the past several weeks, many of the Understanding Fiscal Responsibility blogs have discussed the debate about the federal debt ceiling.  As the August 2 default date approaches, teachers could ask students to create a timeline of the debate, outlining the progress (or lack thereof) of the talks.  Students could create a chart that shows where each side began in the discussions, which points each side has conceded, and which points they are unwilling to negotiate.  Students could then predict how (or if) the stalemate will end before the August 2 deadline.  This activity will help students better understand the debate about the national debt and underscore the importance of compromise in a democratic government.

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