WASHINGTON — A resolution to raise the nation’s debt ceiling may remain far off. But the long-term framing of the debate over spending and debt is becoming slightly clearer, and it’s causing philosophical fissures among Democrats.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) aired his concern that the fiscal “belt-tightening” President Obama and many Democrats have pursued has effectively diminished the party’s brand. Democrats, he argued, have “allowed the center of the political debate to be shifted so far to the right that we find ourselves debating on their territory and using Republican language.”
“It’s very troubling,” he said.
Removed from office after a bruising re-election campaign, Strickland has largely avoided the political spotlight, choosing, instead, to help to build Democratic infrastructure in Ohio. But the debt ceiling debate has piqued his interest and drawn him back into the national conversation — in large part, he said, because he’s worried that his party is unnecessarily folding its superior hand.
Instead of conceding philosophical points to fiscal hawks, he said, the president should being using his bully pulpit to reframe the debate. Congressional Democrats, he added, should be forcing regular votes on “jobs bills” that would create an effective contrast between themselves and Republicans.
“You’ve got to create conflict, but it’s got to be the right kind of conflict,” he said. “The thing that bothers me is we allow ourselves to debate issues using their frame and we’re doing it with this deficit issue. Everyone now, with the exception of maybe [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi, begins their first statement with, ‘Oh, we’ve got to deal with the deficit.’ Yes! But not in 2011. We’ve got to deal with job losses in 2011.”
Conceptually, there are few in the party who would outwardly disagree with Strickland. The president himself, in a recent news conference, said he would prefer to invest in infrastructure and state aid. “But I’m operating within some political constraints here,” he added, “because whatever I do has to go through the House of Representatives.”