Republicans talking tough about debt ceiling

In the midst of a complete surrender over the hard-fought spending cuts in the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011, congressional Republicans are talking out loud about making demands to raise the debt ceiling in the spring.

For example, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who brokered the budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), noted over the weekend that House Republicans “don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit” and would “decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.” He later indicated that one potential trade off could be approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doubted that Congress would approve a clean debt ceiling hike. “I think the debt ceiling legislation is a time that brings us all together and gets the president’s attention, which with this president, particularly when it comes to reducing spending, has been a bit of a challenge,” said McConnell this week, according to Politico.

The deal reached during the government shutdown funded the government until January 15 and raised the debt ceiling to February 7. With the budget issue almost certainly out of the way, assuming the Senate passes it, the focus in Congress will be on the debt ceiling.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has said that the debt ceiling will be reached as early as March, though, higher than expected tax revenues could extend the date to as late as June.

For their part, the White House is already refusing to negotiate with over the debt ceiling, a refrain that was frequently repeated during the government shutdown.

Republicans have a bit of a credibility problem when it comes to debt ceiling demands. They were successful at extracting concessions from the White House in the 2011 debt ceiling fight. They got the Budget Control Act, which contained $1.2 trillion in much-needed spending cuts over a 10-year period.

But before those bipartisan cuts even kicked in, Republicans began retreating from them, and, in the process, blew their messaging on the need for lower spending and deficit reduction. The budget deal already approved by the House and poised to be passed by the Senate partially rolls back what may be the most significant Republican accomplishment since they took control of the lower chamber in 2011.

Given that 2014 is an election year and the debt ceiling is a potentially toxic political issue, Republicans, who ran away from spending cuts for fear of a government shutdown, are just blowing smoke. No one believes them. No one should believe them.

When the debt ceiling is hit, whether that comes in spring or early summer, House Republicans will be forced to bring a clean bill to the floor. It’ll pass with Democratic support. Senate Democrats, who control the upper chamber, will send it to President Obama, who will promptly sign it.

Republicans will no doubt complain about President Obama’s unwillingness to make concession. They’ll whine about grassroots pressure, just as they have over the budget deal. But in the end, another Republican surrender will be complete and taxpayers will be on the hook for more debt.


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