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Posts from 2011 August 01

By Brendan Loy

President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Senate leaders in both parties have agreed to a deal that would effectively raise the debt ceiling through 2012 while enacting a mostly Republican-friendly package of spending cuts (and no new revenues). It would also set up a likely showdown in December over a second wave of deficit-reduction measures as recommended by a bipartisan congressional “supercommittee” — assuming the committee members, who will be evenly split between the parties, can agree. If they can’t agree, or if Congress doesn’t pass their recommendations, harsh across-the-board cuts in defense spending, Medicare and other programs would follow — a “trigger” that is designed to force both parties to bargain in good faith. But hey, at least the “trigger” won’t be default.

Tea Partiers, having quite clearly “won” the negotiations, are, of course, outraged. So are liberals, who see this as yet another Obama capitulation (though really, I’m not convinced Obama had that much choice in the matter, when his opponents were willing to “shoot the hostage” — in this case, the economy — if their demands weren’t met). Consequently, although it’s likely to breeze through the Senate, it’s not at all clear the deal will pass the House, where there are fewer moderates and more hard-line, unruly partisans on both sides of the aisle.

House Republican leaders are touting the new deal as better than the measure that they narrowly, and belatedly, passed last week. But the provisions on the Balanced Budget Act are already attracting criticism from conservatives.

Twenty-two House Republicans voted no on that bill, and it is likely that there will be more defections on the measure embraced by President Obama Sunday night. If every Democrat voted against it, Republicans could only afford about two dozen “no” votes and still pass it. …

Yet it remains unclear how many Democrats will vote yes on the debt-limit bill. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, bashed the agreement on Sunday. Others are expected to follow his lead on Monday. …

[House Democratic leader Nancy] Pelosi…has not publicly endorsed the deal. … [She] issued this statement: “We all agree that our nation cannot default on our obligations and that we must honor our nation’s commitments to our seniors and our men and women in the military.

“I look forward to reviewing the legislation with my caucus to see what level of support we can provide.” …

Pelosi has wanted to raise the debt ceiling, but preferred that a “clean” bill go through without any strings attached.

A few of her deputies, meanwhile, have argued that Obama should invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling.

Regarding the “clean” debt ceiling increase, House Republicans put that notion up for a political show vote back in May, uniformly voting against it. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer urged his colleagues to vote against it, and most did — even though they actually supported the underlying policy it purported to enact — because they wanted to deny the GOP its desired political victory on the designed-to-fail bill. I’ve said all along, and it’s now completely clear in retrospect, that this was a tactical mistake, as well as a substantive one. Democrats would be in a much better political position today if they were already on record as supporting a “clean” increase, which is, of course, the only correct solution to this invented problem. Their too-cute-by-half decision to oppose a bill they support (paging John Kerry!) makes them look like idiots, and greatly complicates their argument now.

In any case, with time having essentially run out, the question at this point for Democrats is which is worse: cementing the horrible precedent that debt-ceiling extortion works, or allowing a default that will damage the economy and destroy Obama’s presidency? They can float bogus 14th Amendment arguments all they want, they can complain that Republican intransigence and illegitimate hostage-bargaining put them in this unfair and untenable position (and they’re right!), but that’s the choice they face, like it or not. I have no idea which way they’ll come down. All I know is that this whole thing is a farce, we should never have arrived at this juncture, and — whatever happens — I will never forgive the shameless Republicans who manufactured this “crisis” for political gain.

(Having said that… don’t think for a moment that Democrats, led by the same liberals who are crying foul over today’s deal, won’t eagerly use this same horrible precedent — that debt-ceiling extortion works — the next time they control part of Congress and a Republican president requests a debt ceiling increase, which will certainly happen. They’ll do it on goose-gander grounds, and to try and achieve policy objectives that would otherwise be impossible. And when they do, that will be unreservedly the Democrats’ fault. The debt ceiling is a math problem, not a policy decision.)