Obama's Failed Debt Ceiling Gamble

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My new column for the FT asks what Obama hoped to achieve by going for the grand bargain. Was he making an offer he knew the GOP would reject, believing that the talks would fail and that the main thing was to make sure Republicans got the blame? It's possible, but I doubt it.

I think it more plausible that the president was sincere - far too late, but sincere nonetheless. By intervening in the budget talks and staking his own reputation on a dramatic new proposal, he hoped to break the stalemate. He knew he risked his party's anger by putting entitlement reform, which is necessary, on the table. By doing so, he hoped to force Republicans to soften their resistance to tax increases, which are also necessary. A more balanced approach to long-term fiscal restraint would be possible - and if all went well, Mr Obama would get the credit.

It was too little leadership, too late. To make this strategy succeed, Mr Obama needed the pressure of public opinion to force Republicans to compromise. That pressure is still too weak, and the time to fix this is running out fast. Mr Obama has infuriated much of his party - again. And he has failed to budge a pathologically intransigent Republican party - again. He has come to a moment that could settle the fate of his presidency.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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