American President Barack Obama came out fighting on Tuesday night in an attempt to undo the damage to his reputation caused by the long-running debt stand-off, and pacify Democrats who feel betrayed by the deal that will result in spending cuts totalling trillions of dollars. The President, who turns 50 on Thursday, faces a tough re-election fight next year. He needs not only to win back such disaffected Democrats, but also to get them out to campaign for him and vote in their droves, as they did in 2008.
Speaking minutes after the Senate joined the House in approving the deal to prevent the U.S. going into default, Mr. Obama offered an olive branch by putting tax rises back on the table.
Republicans have insisted repeatedly over the last few days that the deal does not include tax rises. But Mr. Obama, in a short statement in the Rose Garden, said the country's huge national debt could only be reduced through a combination of spending cuts and tax rises, particularly for the wealthy and big corporations such as those in the oil industry.
“Everyone is going to have to chip in,” he said. “That is only fair. That's the principle I'll be fighting for during the next phase of this process.” He then attempted to turn the debate away from the debt ceiling towards jobs and pay, the issues that Democrats regard as the key to the 2012 election.
But despite hints at ending tax breaks introduced by George W Bush, Mr. Obama may decide such a strategy would be too risky so close to a presidential election.
Democrats, from members of Congress to grassroots members, lined up to criticise the President for giving in to what they view as extortion tactics by Republicans aligned to the Tea Party movement.
The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, added to the view that this was a Republican victory. Speaking minutes before the vote, Mr. McConnell told Republicans who had wanted even deeper spending cuts: “Although you may not see it this way, you've actually won this debate.” The ebullient mood among Republicans was reflected in an article on Tuesday in the New York Post by the conservative John Podhoretz, speechwriter to two Republican presidents: “If Barack Obama loses next November, we'll look back on Sunday — July 31, 2011 — as the day he became a one-termer. He demonstrated the one key quality common to all unsuccessful leaders: haplessness.” He described Mr. Obama as looking powerless and compared Mr. Obama's negotiating strategy to “Daffy Duck, who once ended a rapid-fire exchange at gunpoint with Bugs Bunny by turning the rifle on himself and pulling the trigger”.
The Senate, following the House vote, on Tuesday passed the deal to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. It was passed by 74 votes to 26.
Polls show voters increasingly frustrated and dismayed, not only with Mr. Obama's performance over the crisis but also with members of Congress from both sides.
A CNN/Orc poll published on Tuesday found only 17 per cent said politicians in Washington had behaved as responsible adults, while 77 per cent believed they had behaved like spoiled children.
Mr. Obama's popularity dropped 5 per cent in the polls over the last week, with most putting him around 45 per cent, but a Gallup poll at the end of last week had support for him at just 40 per cent. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011