By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
Despite a Friday afternoon meeting with GOP senators that has led to anticipation that a solution is near on both the partial government shutdown and the debt ceiling showdown, President Barack Obama remains in an intense public relations war with the Republican-led House of Representatives. He believes that the compliant media will back up his most outrageous actions, even as he tries to magnify the crisis for the average American. The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior administration official last week as saying, “‘We are winning…It doesn’t really matter to us’ how long the shutdown lasts ‘because what matters is the end result.’”
The reason President Obama believes he is winning, and can continue to win the current showdown with Republicans over the partial government shutdown and the debt-ceiling hike, is his confidence that the media will continue to support him—no matter how irresponsibly he acts. And the October 8th presidential press conference demonstrated why he is justified in taking the media’s bias for granted. It was a shameful performance, by both Obama and the media.
When asked, for example, in one of the few non-set-up questions, “Would you prioritize and pay bondholders first to maintain the semblance of credit or—rather than Social Security recipients or military servicemen and—women? And how would you go ahead and make that determination?” The President responded, “I’m going to continue to be very hopeful that Congress does not put us in that position. And I think if people understand what the consequences are, they will set that potential scenario aside. I do know that there have been some who’ve said that if we just pay bondholders, if we just pay people who’ve bought Treasury bills, that we really won’t be in default because those interest payments will be made. And to them, what I have to remind them is, we’ve got a lot of other obligations, not just people who pay Treasury bills.”
Yes we do, and in Obama’s nearly five years in office, the federal government has borrowed over $6 trillion more than we’ve taken in to pay our obligations, raising the national to just under $17 trillion. No one is questioning the fact that if we do reach the debt ceiling, estimated to be on October 17th, and have to prioritize our spending, there would be difficult and painful choices to make, and the markets and the ratings services won’t like it. But we can still avoid default by paying the interest on our debt through the normal cash flow coming into the federal government. If Obama was interested in calming international and domestic markets, he should have said, “Of course we will pay the interest on our debt to the bondholders first, to maintain the full faith and confidence that U.S. is not a deadbeat.”
This week, Moody’s Investors Service circulated a memo to that effect: “We believe the government would continue to pay interest and principal on its debt even in the event that the debt limit is not raised, leaving its creditworthiness intact,” it said. “The debt limit restricts government expenditures to the amount of its incoming revenues; it does not prohibit the government from servicing its debt. There is no direct connection between the debt limit (actually the exhaustion of the Treasury’s extraordinary measures to raise funds) and a default.”
Yet many of Obama’s media allies, such as Paul Krugman of The New York Times, have been calling people who hold such views, “default deniers,” which is their despicable way of comparing them to Holocaust deniers. Postponing payments in other areas doesn’t constitute default, no matter how much they want to pressure the Republicans and scare the American public.
The other question Obama dodged was asked by Mark Knoller of CBS News, who is famous for his record keeping of the President’s routine activities. Knoller asked if he’s tempted to go along with any of the bills passed by the House such as funding the NHA and FEMA, among other agencies.
“Of course I’m tempted,” Obama replied, “because you’d like to think that you could solve at least some of the problems if you couldn’t solve all of them. But here’s the problem: What you’ve seen are bills that come up wherever Republicans are feeling political pressure, they put a bill forward. And if there’s no political heat, and if there’s no television story on it, then nothing happens,” Obama said.
“And if we do some sort of shotgun approach like that, then you’ll have some programs that are highly visible get funded and re-opened like national monuments but things that don’t get a lot of attention, like those SBA loans, not being funded. And we don’t get to select which programs we implement or not…we don’t get to pick and choose based on which party likes what…but you don’t do a piecemeal approach like that when you’re dealing with a government shutdown.”
Apparently Obama has felt enough “political heat” to use the shotgun approach and cherry pick a couple of the House’s bills: He signed the Pay Our Military Act, and on October 10th, a bill to fund military benefits of people killed in combat. His administration has also cherry picked which items to keep open, and which to shut down, trusting that the overwhelming anger and frustration by Americans at the obvious petty maneuvering to inflict pain on Americans and visiting tourists will be blamed on Republicans. He knows he can count on a compliant media to help him pull off such shenanigans. Obama’s shutdown and threat of default is no mistake: it is how he runs things. No budget has passed both houses of Congress since 2009, Obama’s first year as President.
Beyond that, the press conference was scripted batting practice. The media tossed softballs, the President incessantly trashed the Republicans, with whom he supposedly wants to make a deal. But it certainly doesn’t look that way. In the hour-plus press conference, he used the term “ransom” eight times, and variations of the word “threat” 11 times. He’s such a victim.
As Investor’s Business Daily pointed out in an editorial, there was “not one single question on the shameful spectacle the other day of allegedly furloughed National Park Service employees suddenly appearing at the open-air World War II Memorial on the National Mall to bar aging veterans from visiting their monument.”
Nor, as IBD pointed out, were there any questions on the blockade of the Lincoln Memorial, nor “about the busload of seniors confronted by armed guards in Yellowstone National Park and incarcerated in a lodge after committing the crime of flocking to photograph bison shuffling across the road.” The editorial said that according to the National Park Service, the orders came directly from the Obama White House.
In addition, there were no questions on the “humiliating rollout of ObamaCare that was supposed to start Oct. 1 and is still stumbling. The total failure of the online operation despite 42 months to prepare. The constant crashing of the site.” And not one question “about how, as a senator, Obama voted against increasing the debt limit in 2006 as a sign of failed Bush leadership, but now Sir Changealot is all for an increase. And Congress is the failed institution.”
The Washington Examiner argued that the shutdown, in monetary terms, is only a 17% shutdown. “Perhaps that is why the effects of the shutdown, beyond some of the most visible problems, like at the monuments and memorials on the Washington Mall, don’t seem to have the expected intensity.” Without the memorials, and other public shenanigans, would many Americans even notice the government shutdown?
With all that was forbidden on the National Mall, one thing was approved: “Camino Americano: March for Immigration Reform.” This was a rally in support of a policy the administration supports, and it included former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Obama’s favorite labor union, the SEIU.
The House has passed a series of bills to fund parts of the government. All but the ones cherry picked by the President have been rejected by Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Senate and threatened with veto from President Obama.