Friday, January 18, 2013

Some Reality in the Debt Ceiling Battle

I am heartened to read some truthful strategy suggestions from those who have been around the block a few times.  In the past few days, columnists and politicians have put forth some realism in the form of opinion and strategy moving forward in President Obama's second term.

Those the temptation is great and understandable, those demanding that Republicans vote no on the raising of the debt ceiling are wrong.  Looking at the big picture, planning a long term strategy, and firming up the Republican base all require some mature contemplation.  We lost the election and we have this president for four more years.  We also failed to take the Senate and we lost seats in the House.  That is the reality in Washington.  We must now move ahead and get the best deals we can without further killing off our party.

Charles Krauthammer has some advice for the GOP and it involves a much needed dose of realism:

The debt-ceiling deadline is coming up. You can demand commensurate spending cuts, the usual, reasonable Republican offer. But you won’t get them. Obama will hold out. And, at the eleventh hour, you will have to give in as you get universally blamed for market gyrations and threatened credit downgrades.
The more prudent course would be to find some offer that cannot be refused, a short-term trade-off utterly unassailable and straightforward. For example, offer to extend the debt ceiling through, say, May 1, in exchange for the Senate delivering a budget by that date — after four years of lawlessly refusing to produce one.
Not much. But it would (a) highlight the Democrats’ fiscal recklessness, (b) force Senate Democrats to make public their fiscal choices and (c) keep the debt ceiling alive as an ongoing pressure point for future incremental demands.
Republicans should develop a list of such conditions — some symbolic, some substantive — in return for sequential, short-term raising of the debt ceiling. But the key is: Go small and simple. Forget about forcing tax reform or entitlement cuts or anything major. If Obama wants to recklessly expand government, well, as he says, he won the election.
Republicans should simply block what they can. Further tax hikes, for example. The general rule is: From a single house of Congress you can resist but you cannot impose.
Aren’t you failing the country, say the insurgents? Answer: The country chose Obama. He gets four years.
Want to save the Republic? Win the next election. Don’t immolate yourself trying to save liberalism from itself. If your conservative philosophy is indeed right, winning will come. As Margaret Thatcher said serenely of the Labor Party socialists she later overthrew: “They always run out of other people’s money.”

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and demand philosophical purity from those elected officials sent to Washington to represent the voters.  It is easy to spout bon mots such as "elections have consequences", especially if the spouter uses that as a basis for an opinion.  What is not so easy is to support politicians who are doing the best possible with what is available.  Does anyone really think that a GOP led House of Representatives - by a more narrow margin now than before the November election, by the way, - can win the battle over the debt ceiling?

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) penned an op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle. He will no doubt take heat over his common sense approach to the debt ceiling vote he will soon cast.  He will push for a limited government shutdown and another debt ceiling short term extension to thwart the spending spree Democrats and President Obama refuse to end.

"It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain," he wrote. "President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately."
The senator did not provide details, either in the article or in his interview with the editorial board, about what areas of the government might be shuttered or for how long. He frequently has said, however, that Republicans should use the debt ceiling and the forthcoming debate over the continuing resolution necessary to finance government as leverage to cut spending on entitlement programs.
"Technically, he's right," said University of Houston political scientist Jim Granato. "We can pay for 60 percent of what we're spending, which means we wouldn't default. The rest is just a huge dogfight, with 40 percent of our spending obligations not met."
Granato also noted that if the debt ceiling is breached, the federal government will not default on paying interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid benefits, but after that the Treasury Department takes over and Obama gets to decide who gets paid and when.
Cornyn, asked whether his statement Thursday represented a change of position from the views expressed in the op-ed, said the article represented something of a negotiating ploy.
"You sometimes try to inject a little doubt in your negotiating partner about where you're going to go, but I would tell you unequivocally that we're not going to default," he said.

However, Cornyn will not risk fiscal irresponsibility to destroy progress that has been made:

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip, said in Houston Thursday that Congress will not allow an impasse over raising the debt ceiling to result in the federal government defaulting on its spending obligations.
"We will raise the debt ceiling. We're not going to default on our debt," Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

And, Cornyn has put forward three points for President Obama to address in this press release:

 President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to raise the debt ceiling, but he has yet to submit a formal request or indicate how much he will need. To avoid another round of fiscal brinkmanship, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is calling on the White House to answer three questions:

“When will the President formally submit his request for an increase in the debt ceiling to Congress? “How much of an increase in the debt ceiling does the President want? “The White House has indicated this year’s budget request will not be submitted on time – when can Congress expect to receive it?”
Republicans in Washington must hold out for what they can get from this hyper-partisan administration and U.S. Senate and work to win the next election cycle.  

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