President Barack Obama speaking from the White House's state dining room on Thursday morning, Oct. 17, 2013 delivered his first remarks after signing the bill reopening the government from a 16-day partial shutdown and raised the debt ceiling limit hours before the default deadline. The President in his brief address to the nation doled out a lot of blame to Republicans in Congress, discussed the ramifications of the crises, how the impending budget talks should proceed, and laid out his agenda for the rest of the year.
President Obama victorious after getting the clean bills for government funding and to raise the debt ceiling limit that he demanded from Republicans in Congress, continued with his blame game. Republicans caved in to the President, at their most unpopular in public opinion polls and perfect fodder for Obama to hold responsible for the entire crisis, its ramifications, and everything that is wrong with government. The President's critical tone and language reflected an outward display that he was above everything; that he was completely blameless and above the partisanship, when he was a major factor contributing to the stalemate with his refusal to negotiate.
Obama began his address with some historical trivia about when the last time there the government shutdown is 17 years ago, and with the false assertion that the U.S. government has never defaulted before, it has in 1812 and 1979 over a technicality and there have been 'technical defaults' such as the one occurred in 1933, when the country was taken off the gold standard. He then briefly thanked Congress for coming to a deal, expressing; "And I want to thank those Democrats and Republicans for getting together and ultimately getting this job done." That would be last kind and complimentary words he would have for Congressional Republicans throughout his whole speech.
Often throughout the crisis the President and Democrats used language that implied, and were accused by Republicans of considering the shutdown a game. Obama in attempt to denounce the claims since it was all over, declared; "But let's be clear: There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don't know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth."
President Obama listed the number of ways the shutdown and threat of default has affected the economy for the average Americans and business. He also referring to recent polls demonstrating American discontent and disapproval for Congress at all time highs, especially for Congressional Republicans who are taking the brunt of the blame for the two crises. Obama said; "The American people are completely fed up with Washington. At a moment when our economic recovery demands more jobs, more momentum, we've got yet another self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back. And for what?"
The President used descriptions and sarcasm to blame the GOP for the economic fallout and the worldwide consequences for the crises. Upon listing some of the global consequences of the debt being on the brink of default, Obama referred to Fitch, the global credit rating agency, placing the U.S. on watch for a downgrade, as well as the international community's concern that the U.S. would not meet its debt deadline.
Obama then commented that the Republicans appear to act as if they care about economic recovery, but their actions counter that, stating; "Some of the same folks who pushed for the shutdown and threatened default claim their actions were needed to get America back on the right track, to make sure we're strong." Continuing Obama said; "But probably nothing has done more damage to America's credibility in the world, our standing with other countries, than the spectacle that we've seen these past several weeks. It's encouraged our enemies, it's emboldened our competitors, and it's depressed our friends, who look to us for steady leadership."
Despite the economic uncertainty, the President maintained that global confidence in the U.S. will bounce back despite the shutdown and debt crisis, and announced to the world that they can still trust the American economy. Obama declared; "America is the bedrock of the global economy for a reason. We are the indispensable nation that the rest of the world looks to as the safest and most reliable place to invest… And today, I want our people and our businesses and the rest of the world to know that the full faith and credit of the United States remains unquestioned."
President Obama emphasized that the method of governing in Washington has to change. Obama then described what needs to be done to accomplish that change, saying; "And there's no good reason why we can't govern responsibly, despite our differences, without lurching from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis."
Continuing Obama invited Republicans to "Let's work together to make government work better instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That's not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government." Obama then gloated to the Republicans that he was the one the won re-election and the Democrats made gains in the House and Senate, meaning he was the one with the mandate, and challenged the Republicans to win an election; "You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about."
President Obama announced his legislative priorities for the next few months, passing a budget to cover the remainder of fiscal year 2014, passing sweeping immigration reform, and a renewed farm bill. He spoke at length about each one, and how he wants Republicans to handle the situation. Obama stated; "Passing a budget; immigration reform; farm bill. Those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now, and we could get them done by the end of the year -- if our focus is on what's good for the American people. And that's just the big stuff."
In a final point, the President welcomed back and thanked Federal workers for all they do for the country. Obama expressed; "The dedicated and patriotic federal workers who've either worked without pay or have been forced off the job without pay these past few weeks, including most of my own staff: Thank you. Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important. It matters."
The President concluded that it is necessary for Republicans and Democrats to work together, and rise above partisanship, stating; "And those of us who have the privilege to serve this country have an obligation to do our job as best we can. We come from different parties, but we are Americans first. And that's why disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can't degenerate into hatred…. Our regard for them compels us all, Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate, and compromise, and act in the best interests of our nation."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH spokesman Brendan Buck responded to Obama's treatement of Republicans and his remarks, stating; "The House is going to remain focused on solutions to grow our economy, but the president did himself no favors by rejecting negotiations and every good faith offer Republicans made him."
The bill ending the shutdown funds the government until Jan. 15, 2014, raises the debt limit until Feb. 7, 2014, with budget conference negotiations on long term spending cuts to end by Dec. 13, 2013 to negotiate the second round of sequester cuts go into effect on Jan. 15, 2014. The bill contained essentially no provisions that delayed or interfered with his health care law, the Affordable Care Act, which had been House Republicans, especially Tea Party Conservative main demands.
The speech President Obama delivered was intended to plan for moving forward after the government was reopened and a default diverted, but it sounded like the President's victory lap, where he was holding over the Republicans that he won the battle, and they cannot stray and have to obey by his rules, and will face the blame for the entire crisis. He is forgetting that he and the Democrats were involved and cannot go completely without being blamed. He still needs the Republicans to pass the legislative plan he unveiled, continuing to blame them and shouting "I won, I won" will not make them receptive, in fact it is because to begin with he shut Republicans out of his healthcare law entirely, that they were demanding any provisions now.
President Obama needs to stop perpetually campaigning and learn how to lead, how to compromise and negotiate; the Republicans are not going to want to play nice if he does not play nice with them either, and the vicious circle and impasses will continue until the 2014 midterm elections, or maybe even until the end of Obama's Presidency. In the end it is true the American public is the ones that will suffer the most from the Presidential, Congressional power play.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.