If I Could Have A 5 Minute Conversation With John Boehner About The Debt Ceiling…

by John Hawkins | July 27, 2011 6:46 am

I’d start by congratulating him for passing one of the most responsible pieces of legislation to come out of Washington in the last decade: Cut, Cap, and Balance. Then I’d note what we both already know: The chances of it becoming law, even if the GOP held out for months, would be zero because Democrats would rather default than pass it.

From there, I’d tell him something else that he already knows now: That his two stage plan, which was really an attempt to please everyone, was a mistake. It was also a particularly egregious type of mistake: One that reinforces an existing stereotype about Republicans. Many conservatives believe the GOP talks a good game, but then when it gets right down to it, they don’t follow through. In order to make it appear that the deal was bigger, Boehner punted his plan to yet another commission that EVERYONE paying attention knows won’t accomplish anything. Why throw away some of the hard earned credibility Boehner has gained with a move like that? It was a big mistake.

Of course, the reason Boehner made that mistake was that Boehner knows that expectations have grown since this fight started. When it kicked off, Obama wanted a clean debt increase and Boehner wanted two trillion in cuts over the next decade. But now, conservatives want Cut, Cap, And Balance while Obama touted a non-existent plan to increase taxes (which would have happened) and reduce the deficit by 4 trillion (which wouldn’t have happened). So, now Boehner feels like he needs to raise the bar.

Boehner also knows that he can’t hold out forever. While it’s true that we won’t really default after August 2nd or be unable to send out Social Security checks unless Obama chooses that course of action, it is financially risky and shutting down a big chunk of the government is not a viable alternative. Conservatives might not be troubled by it, but independents would be justifiably upset. They sent politicians to D.C. to govern, not to refuse to govern. Yes, that means the Democrats need to be forced to write a budget, but it also means Republicans can’t just arbitrarily shut down the government. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling at this point isn’t feasible. It’s like gaining so much weight you can’t fit in any of the pants you own and then simply refusing to buy any more pants. Once you get to that point, like it or not, you need the new pants.

In any case, Boehner’s original goal was 2 trillion in CBO scored cuts over the next decade. He should crank out a bill that does that and a little more and he should push it through. Chances are, it would pass the Senate and Obama would grit his teeth and sign it. If he didn’t, then Boehner could always come back and slam through a bill with a trillion dollars in cuts in it, in return for raising the debt ceiling enough to give both sides six more months to negotiate.

If the Democrats shot down BOTH of those options, then we’d have a case where the Republicans passed not one, not two, but three bills while the Democrats said “no” every time. That would mean the Democrats could spin as much as they like, but in the American people’s eyes, they’d own all the consequences of refusing to raise the debt ceiling. That would be a strong negotiating position and a strong political position for the GOP to be in.

Would everybody be happy with Boehner if he pushes through a deal that cuts spending two trillion over a decade? No, because the amount cut this year would be small and entitlements probably wouldn’t be touched. Unfortunately, when the Senate and the Presidency are controlled by people who would be dramatically increasing spending if they could and who think even Cowboy Poetry is a crucial government service, no matter how good your intentions are, you can only do so much.

Boehner should go for the two trillion in cuts and declare “victory” if the Democrats agree. Then, we work towards getting more Republicans in office in 2012 so that we actually have a sporting chance to save the country from going down the tubes in the next decade. As long as Obama’s President and Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader, no tactic and no amount of will power from Republicans are going to turn this country off the highway to fiscal hell.

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