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January 05, 2011

Jim DeMint: We Shouldn't Vote To Raise The Debt Ceiling Because We Didn't Create This Problem

In an interview with Human Event's Jason Mattera, DeMint says Republicans should vote against raising the debt ceiling, and force Democrats to take sole ownership of the problem they created:


It's not just the Democrats who created the problem, of course; it would make a good storyline if that were the case, but it's not. It was Republicans too, although what many would call "RINOs," or at least compromise-oriented establishmentarians. Still, DeMint's point is about them, too: There will be a heavy political price to pay for voting for this; shouldn't those who advocate and push higher spending have to pay that political price alone? That is, if there's an upside to higher spending (pandering, paying off voters, seeming "nice"), there is also a downside, and isn't it fitting that those who would benefit from the upside of spending also suffer from the downside?

If the spenders/government expanders are not forced to stand alone on such unpopular votes -- if conservatives are going to give them cover, bailing them out, in effect, by standing with them on keeping us from defaulting due to the mess they've made -- haven't we reduced the already-low level of discipline in the spenders ranks? Wouldn't we be allowing them to gain the upside of spending more and more without paying the natural price of that?

On the other hand, defaulting would have large consequences, and we can't trust the Democrats to recognize the fairness and logic of the idea of if you build the bomb, you have responsibility for maintaining it; what if Democrats won't play their role?

But that's an if that can be gotten to later, if it should happen to pass.

Glen Beck and Judge Napolitano discuss the debt ceiling, with Beck taking the more cool-headed, what-are-the-consequences side of things, and Napolitano having decided, rather too glibly I think, that it's time for some serious defaulting. After all, once we default, no one will buy our T-bills again, not the Chinese, or Dutch, or even American citizens, so won't that force us to live within our means?

Well, yes; but that's true of anyone with credit so bad they can't secure a loan. Ask anyone in that situation if they think credit-unworthiness is a good thing. It's not.

Allah discusses this. He hates when I quote him, because people will knee-jerkedly call him a candy-ass and such; I really wish people would stop hurling insults over serious questions. Even if you've decided you're on the revolutionary side of the aisle here, I think it's worth remembering that not everyone has the psychology of a revolutionary, and, in any event, dismissing such concerns with schoolyard put-downs doesn't really indicate a high level of serious engagement with the issue. It's not an easy issue -- even if you are on the revolutionary side -- and if it seems that way maybe you're not thinking seriously enough about it. Maybe the house should be burned down, but I don't think burning the house down is an easy call for people who are really considering the value of a house and the threat of fire.

Fom the myopic standpoint of what’s more likely to bring about the end of the GOP, I’m guessing that an economic collapse triggered by a Republican-driven federal default is slightly more likely to cause trouble for conservatives than voting to raise the ceiling in return for, say, a balanced-budget amendment or other heavy debt-reducing concessions. But beyond that, and I ask this in all sincerity, how exactly is it “fiscally conservative” to willingly default on your obligations? The ceiling is just a ceiling. A Congress committed to solvency could raise the limit now to preserve the stability of global markets and then get cracking on real budget cuts — and entitlement reform — to start moving us away from that ceiling, never to return. This idea of letting the government default because it’s the only way to make Americans get serious about the debt reminds me of some liberals shrugging off spiraling gas prices a few years ago on grounds that they would finally make Americans get serious about alternative energy. In both cases, because the final “crisis” is supposedly inevitable, the point is to bring it about ASAP and make people suffer until they’re willing to agree to dramatic change. Ironically, it reminds of the Cloward-Piven strategy: If you want meaningful reform to an unjust system, the best thing to do is overwhelm it until it crashes and then rebuild it in the ashes more to your liking. Beck’s not quite willing to go that far here, but Napolitano? You tell me.

That said, I think I agree with the house-burners only to this extent: It is a good negotiating position to take. Whether everyone taking this position really means it, and is willing to go through with the full consequences, I don't know. I guess I hope not -- perhaps a real, serious, Greatest Depression is what the nation needs to restore its moral fiber and so on but then again cancer is a character-building and strengthening thing for cancer survivors, but I doubt many people look forward to having their character so built.

But I still recall this Peggy Noonan essay, from an aeon ago (September 17, 2009) but still excellent.

I see two central reasons for the tea party's rise. The first is the yardstick, and the second is the clock. First, the yardstick. Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking—more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking—a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It's always grown! It's as if something inexorable in our political reality—with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academy—has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.

Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like eight. Instead it's 28.

For conservatives on the ground, it has often felt as if Democrats (and moderate Republicans) were always saying, "We should spend a trillion dollars," and the Republican Party would respond, "No, too costly. How about $700 billion?" Conservatives on the ground are thinking, "How about nothing? How about we don't spend more money but finally start cutting."

What they want is representatives who'll begin the negotiations at 18 inches and tug the final bill toward five inches. And they believe tea party candidates will do that.

The second thing is the clock. Here is a great virtue of the tea party: They know what time it is. It's getting late. If we don't get the size and cost of government in line now, we won't be able to. We're teetering on the brink of some vast, dark new world—states and cities on the brink of bankruptcy, the federal government too. The issue isn't "big spending" anymore. It's ruinous spending that they fear will end America as we know it, as they promised it to their children.

So here's what I know: defaulting would be disastrous, and it's the responsible thing to do to protect the country from disaster.

On the other hand, being responsible, being adult, is not working. Every day the government gets bigger and bigger. Throwing rhetoric at the problem doesn't help. So what would?

I'm not sure that acting like we don't care if we default or not, and are willing (or even eager, in some revolutionaries' telling) to risk catastrophe, but that tactic does have one virtue: Unlike so many others, that tactic hasn't really been tried yet, so we don't know from the start it's bound to fail.

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posted by Ace at 11:18 AM

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