Obama’s Speech Is Actually About The Debt Limit


I think it’s fair to say that the White House has had a hard time previewing President Obama’s forthcoming economic speech, and Republicans are gleefully trolling the whole event as a result. Ok, they’d probably be trolling it anyhow. But because the remarks aren’t tied to a big event, or new administration initiative — won’t be a to-do list for Congress, but will supposedly have some policy heft to it — they’re not easily distilled in briefings with reporters, who understandably want to break some news.

It lacks an obvious hook. But the hook is there — it’s just one the president can’t dwell on too transparently.Administration officials say this is only the first in a series of speeches Obama will be giving over the next several weeks, to hit reset on the spring and early summer months which were lost scandal investigations that ultimately fizzled. But another way to put that is the president is reorienting the national conversation, so that voters are primed for coming events.

In about six weeks, fights over funding the government and the debt ceiling will starve all other issues — from the IRS to immigration reform — of the oxygen they’ve enjoyed the past few months. For better or worse, there’s been a rhythm to things since March or so, in which decent economic news and the abeyance of the budget battles have allowed other debates to thrive. But that’s all about to come to an end, and with potentially enormous economic consequences.

Whether this is the White House’s true intent or not, the speeches will have the effect of reminding the country, implicitly, that of all the things the government can do to improve the economy, a debt default threat is among the worst. Addressing the issue obliquely is actually key to preserving the fragile governing coalition he’s helped to build in the Senate, and to avoid the sense that he’s the one drawing battle lines. And If voters have the question of the country’s economic future in mind through the summer, it will make picking a debt limit fight all the more dangerous for the GOP, and certainly be preferable to blindsiding the country with a new round of brinksmanship that puts the fragile recovery on the line once again.