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One Week After Obama Rejected the Idea, AP's Kuhnhenn Says House Debt-Ceiling Extension Plan Is a (House) 'Retreat'

Tom Blumer's picture

At his January 14 press conference, in response to a question from Major Garrett of CBS News and the National Journal about raising the federal government's debt limit, currently at $16.394 trillion, President Barack Obama said: "I’m not going to have a monthly or every-three-months conversation about whether or not we pay our bills."

On Wednesday, a Fox News dispatch to which the Associated Press contributed reported that House Republicans hope to pass a bill on Wednesday which would "allow the government to keep borrowing through May 18," but that "Democrats have generally reacted coolly to the three-month extension" beyond February 18, when the government is currently expected to hit the ceiling. Despite all of this, Jim Kuhnhenn, AP's White House and politics reporter at its Washington bureau, called the House's move a "retreat," with his Tuesday morning story's headline claiming: "Obama stands his ground." Really (bolds are mine throughout this post):


OBAMA STANDS HIS GROUND ON FISCAL DEBATES

What's more, Obama delivered the speech as House Republicans were backing off earlier threats to withhold an extension of the nation's borrowing limit if not accompanied by sharp reductions in government spending. Instead, House leaders plan a vote Wednesday to raise the government debt ceiling through May 18 to avert a first-ever default on U.S. obligations.

That retreat, welcomed by the White House, takes the biggest potential crisis off the immediate horizon. But Obama and congressional Republicans still face two other fiscal deadlines: March 1, when steep automatic spending cuts in defense and domestic programs are scheduled to kick in, and March 27, when the current authority to keep government operating runs out. And then, on May 18, another debt limit crisis will loom.

"It's a matter of how you interpret it," said Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. "If you believe the Republicans will make the debt ceiling crisis a quarterly event, then this is a bad outcome. The White House playbook is that there are now enough Republican grownups in the room they can hammer out deals."

So what Obam rejected a week ago is now "welcomed by the White House." Sure, Jim.

Here is what Obama said on January 14:

... we shouldn’t be doing this on a one to three-month timeframe. Why would we do that? This is the United States of America, Major. What, we can’t manage our affairs in such a way that we pay our bills and we provide some certainty in terms of how we pay our bills?

Look, I don’t think anybody would consider my position unreasonable here.

... Major, I am happy to have a conversation about how we reduce our deficits. I’m not going to have a monthly or every-three-months conversation about whether or not we pay our bills. Because that in and of itself does severe damage. Even the threat of default hurts our economy. It’s hurting our economy as we speak. We shouldn’t be having that debate.

Obama's out-of-hand rejection of the idea of dealing with a three-month extension a week ago could not have been more clear.

Thus, the House is about to pass a three-month extension the President said wouldn't accept, while (unfortunately) deferring dealing with spending cuts (meaning, in reality, "reductions in the growth of projected future spending") until the artificial glow of Obama's inauguration and upcoming State of the Union speech wear off. The House has not backed off of its stated desire to bend down the spending-growth curve (cynics would say that the back-off coming, but it hasn't happened yet, and maybe this time it won't).

Memo to Jim Kuhnhenn at the AP, aka the Administration's Press: There has indeed been a "retreat," but it has come from the guy who said only a week ago that he wouldn't deal with three-month extensions. If your wire service was a responsible news organization instead of the collection of White House lapdogs it has become, you'd be telling the nation that Obama backed off of one of his key debt-ceiling demands on the very first day of his second term.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.