Obama's 'Satan sandwich' leaves sour taste with Black Caucus

OPINION - When the history of the debt ceiling debate is written, it will record that politics won and the American people lost...

With the Senate having finally passed a debt ceiling deal, many are asking if a crisis has really been avoided.

If you ask Missouri Congressman and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman Emmanuel Cleaver the answer would be a resounding no.

In what has to be the most colorful description of anything political in 2011, the chairman described the deal as a “sugar coated Satan sandwich”, that was void of anything that ensured the protection of America’s poor.


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While many dismissed this comment as nothing more than manna from heaven for the 24 hour news cycle that often seems lost in a wilderness of irrelevance, the Chairman had a point.

However the really demonic aspect of this deal is that it doesn’t meaningfully impact anything. The crisis that could have arisen from default was avoided, but a uniquely American way of doing politics and spending has been preserved, through the very deal that had the potential of putting the country on a track to tax reform, responsible (or at least reduced) spending, and a focus on debt reduction vs. expansion.

What I find more offensive than the reality that little was accomplished is the discussion about who won and lost.

One of the things that has me baffled is where was the CBC on this debate? They were silent in the early stages of the discussion, when the lines were drawn by the White House, the Tea Party and Democratic and GOP leadership.

Then, during the height of the negotiations on terms that — for better or worse — had been established, the CBC held a press conference to push for a “14th Amendment option” to raise the debt ceiling without congress’ consent; an option the White House had already dismissed. Thus, the CBC simply ensured their own irrelevance in the fight.
For the Chairman to then label the result of weeks of negotiations a “Satan sandwich” removed the Caucus’ responsibility to help determine the ingredients before the sandwich was made.

The Tea Party won a political war, gaining the most by sacrificing the least. They also won because Washington lowered itself to the rules of engagement of a group of lawmakers who believe compromise is not a family value.

When the history of the debt ceiling debate is written, it will record that politics won and the American people lost. The CBC’s position and the Chairman’s remarks were merely fodder for the show.

I have heard some ask if this positioning by the CBC further damages what has been a challenging relationship between the president and the CBC. I think it is necessary to rebuke that notion as unnecessarily divisive.

As the country faces legitimate economic and employment issues (none of which were addressed with this bill) the focus of the country and its lawmakers should swiftly move beyond the debt ceiling deal, but not the economic and procedural deficiencies that got us there in the first place.

I believe that the CBC is essential to ensuring that the middle class and the poor are represented as entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are at risk of total destruction vs. fiscally smart reform. There will be times when the CBC and the president square off; but they should do so in the name of challenging the president to champion issues that he politically cannot come out supporting from the onset.

The debt ceiling was a distraction that I believe President Obama navigated to the best of his ability. However, it is going to take a more courageous White House and a more aggressive Democratic Party to go toe-to-toe with an emboldened GOP and a tea party that is playing for keeps.