Last week, President Obama sat down with George Stephanopoulos, and when the discussion turned to the national debt, the president shared a simple fact: "We don't have an immediate crisis."
For reasons unclear, the comment was not well received by Republicans and many in the media, with some suggesting a bipartisan debt-reduction agreement may be dependent, at least in part, on Obama saying the opposite.
But then a funny thing happened. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled his budget plan, and it also conceded there is no immediate debt crisis. Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made the same concession to Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Is [Obama] right that we don't have an immediate crisis?BOEHNER: We do not have an immediate debt crisis, but we all know that we have one looming.
Moments later Raddatz clarified further, asking, "So you agree with the president on that?" The Speaker added, "Yes."
This is not to say Boehner and Obama are on the same page when it comes to fiscal issues -- in general, they're very far apart -- but for all the handwringing last week about the president saying there is no debt crisis, it seems to be one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement. Obama, Boehner, and Ryan are all saying roughly the same thing about the nature and the timeframe of the challenge: there may be dangers on the horizon, but as of right now, the so-called "crisis" doesn't exist.
And at this point, any area of bipartisan consensus in the fiscal debate is welcome.
The problem comes when we consider what the two sides want to do next.
I should note, of course, that the idea that there's a "looming" crisis is itself problematic -- there's very little evidence to suggest there's an actual problem anywhere on the horizon. Interest rates are low, inflation is low, and it's never been easier for the United States to borrow at will. If we look for indicators of a genuine crisis in the near future -- Boehner told ABC "nobody knows" how long the nation has before there's a real problem -- we generally come up empty.
But if policymakers in both parties insist on addressing fiscal issues anyway, they're going to have to compromise. What kind of deal is the House Speaker prepared to consider? One in which the White House gives him everything he wants.
"The president got his tax hikes on January the 1st. The talk about raising revenue is over."
Told that Obama is offering entitlement reforms as part of a compromise, Boehner didn't care.
This is neither new nor surprising, but it does put this talk of an alleged "crisis" in an interesting light. According to the Speaker of the House, there's a "looming" debt crisis which will cause the nation real harm. And according to the Speaker of the House, he and his party aren't willing to compromise to address this crisis before is strikes.
This leads to two possibilities: either Boehner doesn't really believe there's a "looming" debt crisis, or believes the threat to the nation's wellbeing is real and he just doesn't much care about preventing it.
I'd love to know which of these two is accurate, but for now, we can only speculate.