New Woodward book goes in depth on debt battle
September 9th, 2012
07:55 PM ET
10 years ago

New Woodward book goes in depth on debt battle

(CNN) – Bob Woodward's new book, "The Price of Politics," unveils new details of last summer’s debt ceiling battle between the White House and Congress with a behind-the-scenes look at an intense showdown.

The book describes the president in repeated negotiations with congressional leaders, as he considered vetoing a bill that would have prevented the government from defaulting on its loans.

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CNN obtained a copy of the book prior to its release on Tuesday.

In July 2011, House Speaker John Boehner led Republicans to pass a proposal that would have raised the debt ceiling in two votes - the first occurring in 2011, the second occurring in the middle of the 2012 presidential race.

Hoping to avoid another high-stakes political fight in the midst if an election year, the president opposed the plan and expressed his concern with congressional leaders *and White House aides* in their private meetings, according to the longtime Washington Post reporter and editor.

“Adopting his law professor manner,” Woodward writes, Obama asked “Could I actually veto it?...What would happen on the day of the veto? The day after?”

On the one hand, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned of an economic disaster.

“You can’t veto,” Geithner told the president, according to the book. “You cannot be responsible for default.”

Then, Woodward writes, “Anything had to be done to prevent it. Anything to preserve the global economy."

On the other hand, Obama was faced with appearing politically weak and bowing down to Republican demands in one of Washington's most high-profile stalemates.

According to the book, David Plouffe, Obama’s senior political adviser, said, “If he caves, it will have long-lasting political repercussions that we may never get out of. If we draw a line in the sand on something this important and cross it, we may never be able to come back.”

The book also details Obama's frustration as he tried to convince congressional leaders to change the plan, one that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was behind. Woodward reports that the president called Boehner one night to urge him to back down from the agreement.

Woodward writes that Obama was “furious” and told Boehner he was not going to sign a bill that required him to deal with the debt ceiling a second time before the election.
Boehner described to Woodward that Obama was "moaning and groaning and whining and demanding" during the call, an account Obama disagreed with in his own interview with Woodward.

“Listen, anybody who knows me knows I don’t moan, I don’t groan, I don’t whine.” Obama told Woodward. “I’m not desperate. I was very angry about how he had behaved."

Ultimately, the president did not have to make a decision on whether to veto that version of the bill. Republicans dropped the two-vote measure as part of the deal that Congress reached on July 31, two days before default deadline.

For the book, Woodward said he talked to more than 100 people in hundreds of hours of recorded interviews. He also compiled thousands of pages of transcripts from the meetings for his research.

In his conclusion, Woodward gives both Boehner and Obama tough marks over how they handled the situation, essentially kicking the can down the road when it came to making the tough decisions to put the country on a better fiscal path.

The deal struck to raise the debt ceiling triggers massive spending cuts that start in January 2013, unless Congress can come up with a new agreement on how to reduce the deficit.

"You cannot help but conclude that neither President Obama nor Speaker Boehner handled it particularly well. Despite their evolving personal relationship, neither was able to transcend their fixed partisan convictions and dogmas. Rather than fixing the problem, they postponed it," Woodward writes.

Filed under: 2012 • Congress • John Boehner • President Obama • White House
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Pete

    Woodward as an author should watch himself if he wants any political favors from the president again.He got his book and that issue was just a tip of the iceberg that combinated over a 3 year period with Boehner,he does cry a lot,that's his MO,cry alligator tears right,it does go over for those republicans who are suckers for babies..Boehner on the other hand better watch out his speakership may be leaving him shortly,it doesn't look good for congressional republicans but they deserve it when they haven't done anything since 2010,really pathedic and they got paid for that!!!Hopefully it'll change with the majority being democratic after November,hey Boehner then you can cry!!!

    September 9, 2012 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  2. Homer

    We didn't need Woodward to tell us the obvious.

    September 9, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  3. Sirned

    Consider the writer and his political leanings...Woodward lost his objectivity years ago after getting famous and rich...He's been far to cozy with elitists and Republican leaders to take his spin on the occurrence of events during the debt ceiling debacle too seriously.....Just another book just another dollar I'm afraid...

    September 9, 2012 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  4. Ray E. (Georgia)

    Let's face it,
    The over 16 Trillion Dollar Federal Debt is a glaring failure of the Liberal Left. Woodward is a big part of that. Maybe he should write about his own glaring failures.

    September 9, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  5. Mike Texoma

    President Obama did not put the nation in that bind. The Republican House majority did. It was based on the false premise that government spending was "out of control." Truth be known, it was the Bush "temporary" tax cuts, or tax expenditures, that was out of control. That, and the Republican insistance on continuing those tax expenditures even in the face of a major economic recession. They were a major factor in running up deficits, larger than the stimulus. And when the Republicans refused $1 for taxes against $10 dollars in spending cuts, with so much at stake, the President was rightfully outraged. The President was right to stand his ground. Bob Woodward is unwilling or unable to assess that situation with clarity.

    September 9, 2012 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  6. Keep us all on our heels...

    Well without reading the book, I can only hope that Woodward also addressed how Boehner and Cantor were involved in a spat of their own, and Cantor was doing everything he could make both Obama and Boehner look bad. I think when history books are finally written in 10 years, Cantor will be remembered as one of the most underhanded, evil politicians of our day.

    September 9, 2012 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  7. enuff

    Well at least their is still one old school journalist still out there. Did he interview the Kardashians for this? I don't think so... take notes CNN. your journalists may learn something new.

    September 9, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  8. jane

    The Repubs in congress MUST GO!!!!

    September 9, 2012 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  9. Catmandew

    Obama whines all time about the mess DUBYA left him! 3 years of failed ideas and he complains congress doesnt work with my failure ideas. Obama we are your people do your job quit whining and get it done if we all did like you nothing would get done!

    September 9, 2012 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  10. California

    The fact is that demcorats are ignorant of any facts against their messiah. They will literally ignore any facts pertaining to any negative issues towards Obama even if it means ignoring the facts.

    September 9, 2012 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  11. Catmandew

    You mean OBAMA is not a good leader and niether was congress they should have kept 2nd vote on the bill!

    September 9, 2012 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  12. Cat

    Woodward always slants to the right in all of his books. You can't trust what he writes about Obama, especially releasing his book two months before the election. He has become too big for his boots!

    September 9, 2012 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  13. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I think that Boehner deserves lower marks because he couldn't get his caucus to accept this deal. He could have just posted it to the House with his cacus be damned.

    September 9, 2012 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  14. Really?

    Sure would be nice to get Romney in there and FINALLY have some real jobs for a CHANGE.

    September 9, 2012 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  15. J.V.Hodgson

    My guess is that whoever reads this book will come out with a party politically biased view as to who failed overall Republicans or Democrats.
    Woodward seems to blame both Obama and Boehner equally, but I have not read the book.. one things for sure a 400-500 word blog summary cannot do hundreds of meetings and thousand of pages of notes justice.

    September 10, 2012 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  16. tammyk tammy

    boehner's grossly exaggerated description of his conversation with the President is more descriptive of repuglican behavior than of how we know a dignified man like President Obama would ever behave. What ugly people the Repugs have become. Boehner is a embarassment to this country. Thank you Mr. PRESIDENT for having the wisdom to draw the lines which should never be crossed. You have earned my vote and my respect.

    September 10, 2012 02:02 am at 2:02 am |
  17. Vote for Seamus, elect Kolob's next dog catcher

    "Rather than fixing the problem, they postponed it" until the next election in 2012

    So the voters have to take some responsibility for this TEABAG obstruction mess.

    September 10, 2012 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  18. Iamnotfooled

    Listen, anybody who knows me knows I don’t moan, I don’t groan, I don’t whine.” Obama told Woodward. “I’m not desperate. I was very angry about how he had behaved."
    I bet that Boehner, moaned , groaned, and whined. He probably cried too. That I would believe. President Obama NO.

    September 10, 2012 03:19 am at 3:19 am |
  19. 1zb1

    So how is it the President's fault when Republicans refuse to negotiate anything?

    September 10, 2012 05:24 am at 5:24 am |