The president had been speaking for nearly an hour, and his 2013 State of the Union address did not seem to be ruffling feathers overmuch. “But,” he said to himself, “That will soon change.” After having covered his plans for our nation in regard to economics, tax policies, climate change, defense spending, foreign policy, gay rights, abortion rights, and election reform, President Obama continued:
“Now I’d like to address the next political battle we’ll be facing here in Washington: the debt ceiling. Our economy will hit the present ceiling in late February or early March, and the Senate Minority Leader and the Speaker of the House have both made it abundantly clear that they’re going to use the debt ceiling as an opportunity to extract spending cuts from almost every facet of the federal budget except for defense. I’ve stated for some time now that we’re not going to have that fight anymore. The last time we had this debate, it wound up costing the American people the first credit downgrade we’ve ever had, and while that particular downgrade didn’t turn out to be catastrophic, a second downgrade may very well lead us to places we really don’t want to go.
So let me be clear: we’re not going to have this fight. There will be no long, drawn-out negotiations. There will be no late-night last-minute desperate deal-brokering to avoid the first default in our nation’s history. What’s more, I’m taking the decision out of my own hands completely.
He turned to address the Republican senators and representatives who were seated on his left, “I’m leaving that particular decision up to the House of Representatives.”
The president paused until the murmurs punctuated by shouts and not a few curses died down before he repeated himself,
I’m leaving the decision strictly up to the House of Representatives under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner, and we will see what decision you will make. I have asked the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to introduce a bill to raise the debt ceiling, and to keep the bill clean without anything at all added to it. Furthermore, I have signed an executive order, it’s sitting right here in front of me, that states that the current president will not sign any bill into law raising the debt ceiling unless it’s a clean bill without any amendments. Furthermore, if I were to sign such a bill, the executive order stipulates that the current president, that’s me, remember, must resign within thirty days. As of now, I’m not allowed to sign anything but a clean bill.
Howls of protest erupted from the Republicans, while the Democrats were largely silent, shocked speechless that their president would put the nation’s economy in the hands of the Tea Party-influenced Republicans in the house. Again, the president waited for the ruckus to die down and then continued, “So to those from the other side of the aisle, you wanted to be in charge, so I’m giving you the opportunity to make what is perhaps the most important decision of my presidency, without any input whatsoever from me. That’s right, after this speech, I’m done with this subject. You’ll either present me a clean bill to sign to raise the debt limit, or you will not. If you do not do so, then it will be your decision to force this nation into default. It’s as simple as that.”
Shouts and curses erupted once more from the Republicans, and there was scattered laughter and applause from the Democrats. But the president wasn’t done.
Now we all know how much you hate me, how it’s almost dogma among Republicans that I’m somehow out to run America into the ground. You seem unable to believe that I want what’s best for the nation. None of you can imagine yourselves voluntarily doing something that would make me look good; in fact, before I even took the oath of office the first time, your leaders made a pact to obstruct everything I tried to do, without exception, no matter what. Now I want to raise the debt limit, for nearly all economists of note point out that if America defaults on her debts, we will go back into recession, and the rest of the world probably will, too. Of course I don’t want another recession, and I doubt you do either. But if you send me the clean bill to raise the debt ceiling that I want to see, you’ll make me look good. What’s more, if the American economy continues to improve as it currently is, that will reflect even better on my administration. And none of you can stand the thought of that.
On the flip side of the coin, if you decide to not raise the debt limit, you can ruin my legacy, for we all know that in the final analysis, it’s the president and not Congress who bears the blame. You’ll be able to claim that because I didn’t negotiate with you, that you weren’t able to agree to raise the debt limit. The only real question is, which is greater – your desire to preserve the health of the American economy, or your hatred of me? If it’s the latter, then the nation and the world will go back into recession because we, the elected officials in this chamber, chose; chose not to pay our bills when we certainly had the means to do so. But hey, you’ll have ruined the legacy and greatly weakened the prestige of my administration. Maybe that will be worth a worldwide recession to you. A wise Republican once said, ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’ Well, I’m taking a page from President Lincoln’s notebook. I’m giving you that power, and this choice is going to test your character. That is all I’m going to say on this matter. Good night, and may God bless us all, and may God bless the United States of America.
President Obama walked smartly from the congressional chambers to jeers, boos, and curses from the Republicans, mitigated only somewhat by half-hearted applause from the Democrats.
Two hours later found President Obama seated at his desk in the Oval Office, and the only other person present was Vice President Joe Biden, red-faced, and barely maintaining his composure in the face of such an ill-advised gamble. The vice president began,
Mr. President,were you really being serious? Are you really leaving it up to Boehner and his pack of idiots in the House? I mean, you’re risking America’s, and the world’s, economy on the hope that they’ll actually do something intelligent! This is Boehner and Cantor and Paul Ryan and the whole lot: they haven’t done anything intelligent since before you won the first time! All they want to do, all they’ve ever wanted to do, is to destroy you. They’re scared as hell of you, and you’re giving them the power and opportunity to drive the nation into default because it will make you look bad? I’m sorry, Mr. President, but I think you made a bad bet, because I’m fairly certain they really would force America into default if they thought it would hurt you. I’d bet every penny I’ve ever had that tomorrow morning, every conservative pundit from Limbaugh to O’Reilly to George Will will find excuses why refusing to raise the debt limit would be a great thing for the American people, and then every hick, hillbilly, and redneck this side of Sacramento will force their congressmen to vote against any hike of the debt ceiling! Tell me you’ve got something up your sleeve, please, sir!
President Obama calmly replied as he began flipping a large silver-colored coin up in the air,
Joe, I’ve got precisely nothing up my sleeve. But I didn’t make any bets, either. If they raise the debt limit, nobody but you and I and a few people at the mint will know this coin exists. On the other hand, if they refuse to raise the debt limit, I deposit this coin a few hours before midnight when the deadline’s about to pass, and then I show the American people that the Republicans were willing to destroy the American economy if they could destroy me along with it.
The president saw Joe Biden’s sudden predatory smile, and added one more item. “By the way: I’ve got a fund-raiser in Seattle next month. The laws there have changed, and it’s been a long time since I had some decent weed; care to join me?”
The vice president’s smile grew noticeably wider.