Michael Gaynor
Debt limit battle: Obama's game of chicken to lose, unless his opponents split
By Michael Gaynor
July 29, 2011

Default needs to be avoided, but so too the downgrading of America's credit rating. Team Obama is not up to making the kind of cuts that may be necessary to avoid downgrading and must shift blame and/or divide the opposition.

President Obama will lose the debt limit battle, UNLESS it leads the Tea Party to become an official third party and run its own presidential candidate.

That is Team Obama's unstated goal (and path to re-election), which is why Speaker John Boehner has been portrayed as a reasonable compromiser being prevented from making a deal by the Tea Party.

In "Obama Is Desperate to Avoid Another Debt Limit Battle Before Election" (July 29, 2011), Dick Morris and Eileen McCann insisted that "Obama really just wants to avoid having to go through another battle before Election Day. His rejection of the Boehner Plan has nothing to do with the markets or the economy. It is purely political."

It IS purely political, but Obama wants much more than "to avoid having to go through another battle before Election Day."

Morris and McCann: "He's desperate to avoid having to face this issue again. He's lost ten points in job approval over the battle so far and he wants to get out of town before he loses more."


The stealth socialist president who fooled enough voters to be elected with his "hope and change" motto and then forced through Obamacare and increased the national debt in an unprecedented way is determined to win re-election and the way to do that is to induce the Tea Party people to run their own presidential candidate instead of to support the Republican presidential candidate.

Team Obama is portraying the Tea Partiers as the extremist obstacles to a deal and trying to portray Obama as "the adult."

Forget that very inconvenient vote by then Senator Obama against raising the debt ceiling and his explanation of it: "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies. ... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

As an incumbent President running for re-election, Obama flip flopped. He had voted against a debt increase to protest "a failure of leadership" and "our Government's reckless fiscal policies" and to avoid "weaken[ing] us domestically and internationally" and "shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren," but he brazenly demanded a "clean" bill increasing the national debt limit.

No wonder President Obama was picked by Senator John Kerry to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democrat National Convention: they are birds of a feather who flip flop. That year Kerry shamelessly declared: ""I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Morris and McCann suggest sending this message to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "If you want more debt authority so that it takes us to the end of the year, come up with more cuts. Not phony cuts in military spending but real cuts scored by the Congressional Budget Office."That's a sound suggestion. Default needs to be avoided, but so too the downgrading of America's credit rating. Team Obama is not up to making the kind of cuts that may be necessary to avoid downgrading and must shift blame and/or divide the opposition.

Morris and McCann urge passage of the Boehner plan as the way to win a game of chicken with Obama.

Morris and McCann:

"The Boehner Plan gives Republicans a good place to stand. If a government shutdown eventuates because Reid won't put up extra cuts or because Obama wants to punt this issue until after the election, then they will incur massive blame from the voters.

"And remember one thing: Obama has no choice. He can't let default take place for two reasons: 1) It would make him look weak and hurt his presidency dramatically; and 2) It would be evident that the shutdown is not the disaster he has been predicting and he would be caught crying 'wolf.'

"Republicans should sit back, after passing the Boehner Plan and make the Democrats and the president come to them. Obama is stuck and Republicans should take advantage of his lack of maneuverability. They already have the key concession: Reid agreeing to a cuts-only approach. With that concession in their pockets, they should play a waiting game that Obama cannot match.

"Always remember that no matter how much the public may not like intransigence by House Republicans, it is Obama who is suffering by this issue. If Obama and Boehner turn off the public by their fencing and maneuvering, so be it. Obama is running for president and Boehner is not. Boehner can afford to take the hit. Obama can't."

Morris and McCann are right about Obama's predicament.

The debt limit battle is a game of chicken.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_(game)):

"The game of chicken...is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory.The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the worst possible outcome occurs when both players do not yield.

"The name 'chicken' has its origins in a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a 'chicken,' meaning a coward; this terminology is most prevalent in political science and economics."

Apparently Morris and McCann think that the Boehner plan must be passed because the Cut, Cap and Balance bill already passed by the House will not suffice as the move to bring Obama and Reid to the brink.


"'Chicken' and 'Brinkmanship' are often used synonymously in the context of conflict, but in the strict game-theoretic sense, 'brinkmanship' refers to a strategic move designed to avert the possibility of the opponent switching to aggressive behavior. The move involves a credible threat of the risk of irrational behavior in the face of aggression. If player 1 unilaterally moves to A, a rational player 2 cannot retaliate since (A, C) is preferable to (A, A). Only if player 1 has grounds to believe that there is sufficient risk that player 2 responds irrationally (usually by giving up control over the response, so that there is sufficient risk that player 2 responds with A) player 1 will retract and agree on the compromise."

It is obvious that President Obama wants a debt increase that will take him past Election Day 2012, but that's a personal political preference and he cannot rationally choose default and downgrading over the Boehner plan or pose as "the adult in the room" if he did.

The record shows that debt increases since 1960 have averaged significantly less than a year.

Kennedy (1961-1963) raised the debt ceiling 4 times.

Johnson (1963-1969) raised the debt ceiling 7 times.

Nixon (1969-1974) raised the debt ceiling 9 times.

Ford (1974-1977) raised the debt ceiling 5 times.

Carter (1977-1981) raised the debt ceiling 9 times.

Reagan (1981-1989) raised the debt ceiling 18 times.

George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) raised the debt ceiling 9 times.

Clinton (1993-2001) raised the debt ceiling 4 times.

George W. Bush (2001-2009) raised the debt ceiling 7 times.

Obama (2009- ) has raised the debt ceiling 3 times.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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