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April 13, 2011

Compare and Contrast on the Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling is the next major fight in Washington (assuming that the gimmicky rump FY2011 spending passes) and both parties are now maneuvering. The Republicans say they want structural spending reforms in exchange for voting to raise the debt ceiling. The idea is that if the federal government is going to keep overspending its credit card, it must change its spending habits.

Democrats, on the other hand, say they want a "clean" vote to raise the debt limit, free of "ideology." As far as the Democrats are concerned, overspending is simply not a problem related to the debt ceiling.

Both parties recognize that raising the debt ceiling is a political hot potato. Polls uniformly show Americans opposed to raising it. That's why, back in December, Harry Reid didn't want Democrats to have to make the tough vote alone:

Reid also said that he would like to push off raising the debt ceiling until next year — when Republicans control the House, but that he has not discussed the matter yet with his caucus.

“Let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt. They’re going to have a majority in the House,” said Reid. “I don’t think it should be when we have a heavily Democratic Senate, heavily Democratic House and a Democratic president.”

Republicans are well-positioned to take major concessions over the debt limit (assuming they actually want some, I'm looking at you Speaker Boehner, dammit). The public is on our side. More importantly, the Democrats are pursuing the same strategy they always do.

Compare and contrast:

"I will not support an increase in the debt ceiling without real and meaningful changes in spending in the short-term and in the long-term. We've got to change the way we spend the people's money. ... The President sends the budget to Capitol Hill that will double the national debt in the next 10 years. And simply expanding the credit card is not the right answer."
""It will be hugely dangerous for the Republican colleagues to play a game of chicken on the debt ceiling. You would see an economic catastrophe if the United States defaulted on its debt."

The first is GOP Rep. Mike Pence, who offers a cogent explanation for what it will take to increase the debt ceiling. The second is Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who simply pushes the panic button.

The Democrats are hoping that they can make enough people afraid that the Republicans will feel pressured. But there's no reason to believe that will happen.

Again, compare and contrast:

"Yes, it would be catastrophic to have the nation default upon its debt. But I think in some respects it presents a false premise. ... We could put America on the path today to spend less. We don't have to default."
"The consequences of not raising the debt ceiling would be Armageddon-like in terms of the economy. We do not need to play chicken with the economy by linking the raising of the debt ceiling to anything."

The first is GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling. The second is White House press secretary Jay Carney.

There are actually two propositions here:

A. The debt ceiling must be raised or the U.S. will default on its loans, which will have substantial consequences.

B. U.S. government spending is out of control and routinely busts the debt limit, so spending must be curtailed.

Here's why the GOP can win on this: Americans believe both propositions. Look back up at the GOP quotes above. That's an argument that wins. Democrats want to keep these two propositions entirely separate, but they can't explain why (other than the unspoken reason: they want to keep spending money we don't have). So instead of explaining, they simply adopt extreme rhetoric as to the first one, as if that means the second should be ignored.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 07:41 AM

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