If there’s one lesson President Obama learned from the 2011 battle over raising the debt ceiling, it’s that in policy negotiations he needs to speak loudly enough for the American people to hear, said the president's longtime friend and adviser David Axelrod.
With the clocking ticking toward the Jan. 1 deadline to avert the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, Obama has sought to gain the upper hand in a standoff with House Republicans by pushing his view that tax rates on the wealthiest Americans need to rise as part of any deal on the budget. He has traveled to states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and used the bully pulpit of the presidency to try to rally public opinion to his side.
Many Democrats have said the White House erred during the debt-ceiling standoff a year a half ago in not making better use of the White House microphone to put pressure on Republican lawmakers to support an increase in the country's borrowing limit.
“One of the lessons of the earlier encounter is that you need to involve the American people in the discussion,” Axelrod said at National Journal’s “America's Inheritance: Where to Begin on the Big Issues?” event on Thursday. “The American people need to know what’s at stake, what is being debated, and it can’t just be an inside game.”
Axelrod, who helped lead Obama to victory in 2008 as his chief political strategist, played a key role in shaping the president’s policy and messaging during his first few years in office. He stepped down from his position as senior White House advisor months before the summer 2011 fight over increasing the nation’s borrowing authority, but that battle will influence the president’s second term, he said.
“Engaging the country in these debates is something he’s going to continue to do—make sure that we have a national discussion on these issues and not just one in small rooms here in Washington,” Axelrod said.