WASHINGTON – President Obama and Republican leaders confessed Tuesday to playing a belated April Fools’ joke on the American public in the form of a seemingly apocalyptic debate about the debt ceiling. Amid general giggling and back-slapping at Wednesday’s bipartisan press briefing, House Speaker John Boehner described the prank as a bit of “street theater to see if the American public was really paying attention.” President Obama explained, “a bipartisan consensus agreed to say some really crazy things and see how many people would bite, and many did.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “People always complain about political gridlock in Washington, but that’s a myth. This very complex hoax shows that well-meaning Democrats and Republicans can work together, support one another, and have a deep consensus in the face of a hostile media and Wall Street.” All present expressed their respect and thanks to one another and the hundreds of politicians and staff who helped sustain the prank.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “I am inspired by the loyalty of my colleagues. Both sides of the aisle share a deep commitment to government spending. Some of us call it social entitlements, and some of us call it defense spending, but we are united, and we will not be stopped. No one can take that commitment away from us. I learned this from Ronald Reagan.”
The two sides explained how they agreed to speak as if the debt ceiling was a natural law, never before encountered in American history, though it dates only to 1917. The Republicans would look good holding the fort in favor of natural law, and Democrats would look good in trying to transcend it. Constituents for both groups polled positively. “It was the perfect debate issue,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, “since both parties would have been destroyed at the next election if either had ever for a moment dreamed of not raising the debt limit. From the start, we both knew we had to raise the debt limit, but no one denies the hoax helped both sides get a jump-start on the election.”
The team of pranksters admitted to many tense moments over the course of the month. In the early stages, several voiced worries about the joke going too far and making the American people take to the streets and riot like European citizens. “The riots in Ireland and Greece actually helped set up the joke tremendously,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “It helped confirm in the American mind that protests are barbaric, and it’s better to be calm and serene at all times, never emotional like Greeks.” He added that the prank leaders even started increasing the use of more and more nightmare scenarios—“debt default,” “massive unemployment,” and “utter financial chaos”—but “Americans remained true to their televisions.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma said the first stage of the “performance art” was to get both sides “to agree to never to mention seriously the most blatantly obvious place to cut spending – military and defense expenditures, which as everyone knows are seven times the size of China’s, the next largest military budget. It’s three times the size of our 1997 military spending.” Both sides pretended to fight rancorously over a minimal cut that the media cheered, “when in fact the proposed $800 billion cut was simply the amount we’ve already spent in fighting a few months in Libya.” The President commended the Republicans for keeping straight faces while warning about the dire consequences of minor military cuts. For his part, the President said he “agreed not to label military spending ‘conservative socialism’ since that would strike too close to home.”
The pranksters admitted to testing out how far they could go in raising the question of reductions in Social Security. In decades past, the mere mention of Social Security cuts ruined countless political careers. Even Ronald Reagan famously refused to raise the specter of Social Security cuts. “But after a few weeks of talking about debt default and financial chaos,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, “we actually heard a Democrat president actually threaten to stop Social Security payments. That was risky. We all held our breath, but he pulled it off with a great poker face.” The Republican leadership agreed that the President excelled at raising the stakes in the prank, and Republicans had to keep up with his pace or risk ruining the whole hoax. “Though I will always pretend to disagree with the President’s politics,” said John Boehner, “I had to admire his ability to sustain the joke and to push the envelope to the next higher level of hoaxness.”
The group explained that the prank depended upon people not doing the math. Mitch McConnell explained that everyone knew the government would bring in $2.26 trillion in fiscal year 2012. “We only had to cut spending to that number. Part of the farce was to make people think that such cuts would take us all the way back to 1892 or 1929. In fact, it would have just been 2002’s budget.” All the participants agreed that was hysterical. Someone quipped that Americans were never very good at math anyway.
When asked if the pranksters feared a backlash from citizens, more stifled laughter broke out. “We live in a world of comedy and satire,” said the President. “We have Stewart’s The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. We take guff all the time. We just wanted to give back a little.” Harry Reid said, “the American people love April Fools’ Day. And if they can’t take it, then at least we’re grateful that they have short memories.” Joe Biden leaned into the mic, smiling, and said, “America, don’t make us do this again.”