July 19, 2011
Though President Obama has run rings about the Republican Party in the debt-ceiling debate, that party can yet emerge victorious, if it will stick to its guns.
Clearly, the Republican strategy was not thought through, when the party chose the debt ceiling as the legislative terrain on which to fight its fiscal war.
The president had wanted a clean debt-ceiling increase, but he seized the GOP challenge with alacrity. He invited House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor down to the White House and reportedly offered $3 trillion in spending cuts for $1 trillion in fresh revenue, in a historic “big deal” to cut the deficit.
However, the cuts the president offered were, while attractive, gauzy. But the revenues—closing “loopholes” and ending “tax breaks for the rich”—were hard and specific. Had Boehner accepted the deal, he would not have survived as speaker. Fully 235 GOP House members signed a pledge in 2010 not to vote for any tax increase.
Thus, every day Boehner and Cantor departed the White House, having refused to accept “the deal of the century,” the message that went out to the nation was that Republican intransigence, a refusal to compromise, was blocking historic deficit reduction.
Using the White House bully pulpit, Obama portrayed himself as bending over backward to do a fair deal and being forced, if the GOP continued to balk, to stop mailing out Social Security checks.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned of a U.S. default on its debts if there were no deal. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s warned that the United States was imperiling its AAA credit rating. The big media painted the GOP as a party led by reasonable men who were hostage to fanatics being pandered to by Cantor.
Why did Boehner refuse the Obama temptation?
Had he accepted the deal, his party in the House would have split asunder. Half would have voted “no.” To force its passage, Boehner would have had to collude with Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, against scores in his own caucus, to get Democratic votes.
Though House Republicans have been mussed up in the last two weeks, the White House “negotiations” now appear at an end, and a liberated Republican House is about to pass its own deficit-reduction plan.
“Cut, cap and balance” calls for cuts in federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product, a cap on federal programs and the enactment of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would crush federal spending to 18 percent of the economy from today’s 25.
While this may clear the House, it stands little chance in the Senate. But it puts the party on the offensive. It will eat up the clock. It will put the GOP on record as to where it stands and provide the Tea Party Caucus a chance to vote its convictions.