A week ago John Boehner insisted he was ready to do battle against Obama and his Democrat allies over the debt limit:
“The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.
“Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children’s future,” the Ohio Republican said. “The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation’s obligations, and keeps the government running — and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same.”
That responsible legislation?
To surrender and allow the debt limit to go up:
House Republicans are teeing up a vote this week on a new debt ceiling bill, marking the first legislative battle of President Obama’s second term and one that could determine whether the country once again risks default over a political fight.
House leaders, after unveiling the legislation Monday, are planning to hold a vote Wednesday on their plan to allow the government to keep borrowing through May 18.
…As for the debt ceiling provision, the legislation does not set a specific limit; rather it would automatically increase the limit by the amount required to fund U.S. government obligations through May 18.
The debt limit would be suspended for four months and what do we get for it? Zero spending cuts.
But wait…there’s more.
Another provision in the bill says that unless the Senate passes a budget, which they haven’t done for years, then no one in Congress will get paid.
Smoke and mirrors. What does that have to do with spending cuts? Does anyone think that a Democrat majority in the Senate is going to pass a budget with spending cuts.
It’s a gimmick to make the Republicans feel better. That’s it.
…I’m sure some members of Team GOP will say, “Oh but the final cuts will retroactively include this four months of debt increase”. Does anyone think Democrats (or Republicans) are going to “pay for” something they’ve already gotten for free?
…Obama is going to start with the $800 billion in revenue Boehner generously put on the table for nothing and demand that that be counted against the debt hike so that “dollar for dollar” promise becomes “some cents from taxes, some cents from “cuts that won’t happen”” an over all spending will go merrily along.
So what’s going on?
The underlying rationale behind this strategy is to defer the debt ceiling fight until after the FY 2013 CR is dealt with and the FY 2014 budgets are formulated. The idea is that the House would unite behind a pro-active budget/debt plan in March from which they would harness as their demand for any long-term debt ceiling increase in mid-April.
What sort of budget plan would Republicans formulate in March? According to a joint letter by five current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee, who are all supporting this plan, “the House will work to put the country on the path to a balanced budget in 10 years. House leadership also agreed to stand by the $974 billion discretionary number that is part of the sequestration process.”
If Republicans would truly use this short-term extension as an opportunity to formulate a balanced budget from which to use as any future demand for raising the debt ceiling, it’s a great deal. But please forgive me for feeling a bit like Moses during his interaction with Pharaoh during the plagues. After incurring the wrath of God for obdurately reneging on his promise to let the Jews out of Egypt, Pharaoh finally confessed his sins during the seventh plague and promised to let them go. Moses agreed to suspend the hail, but he was not fooled after 7 times. “But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God [Exodus 9, 30].”
By my count, there have been at least seven budget/debt battles over the past two years in which Republicans have either deferred, punted, or caved. While they offer excuses for shirking from the battle at hand, they always emphatically promise to fight the next one. Look, maybe Boehner told the conservatives in the House something that gave them the impression he had a complete epiphany. Maybe they really will formulate a budget that will balance in 10 years. But even if they do, does anyone really believe they will stand behind it as a demand for a long-term debt limit increase as the clock winds down to midnight May 18?
Our leverage is the debt limit and sequester. And the Republicans won’t even use it to stand and fight.
“They sent (Ryan) out today to say you know, maybe we’ll pass a short term debt ceiling, which is almost the worst of all worlds. If they’re going to lose, they should just say we can’t beat the President, here’s all the red ink, we’re going to stand over here until it collapses, and be the Greek chorus, or they can go to the mat and shut the government down. But to pass a six week or a two month, it’s just like they played small ball all 2011 and go nowhere as a result.”