Republicans Should Choose a Different Hostage


Suzy Khimm writes about a way for Republicans to shut down the government that doesn’t involve refusing to raise the debt ceiling:

Congress will have to pass another short-term budget before late March because it’s been unable to pass a full budget through the regular process. In fact, the continuing resolution was the very first budget fight that Republicans used to extract spending cuts in the last Congress, threatening to shut down the government until a last-minute deal was struck in April 2011….Congressional Republicans now say that the year-to-year, discretionary budget must be part of the next fiscal deal’s spending cuts, not just entitlements. “The pinch points will be the sequester, debt ceiling and the CR—all three coming up in the next three months,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) told me. “The CR—it’s one of the areas where there is indeed an absolute deadline. Washington and Congress respond to crises and deadlines, and we need to address the spending side of the equation.”

If Republicans really want to shut things down, this is the way to do it. Don’t get me wrong: I still think they’d be crazy to do it. Cutting spending while the economy is still weak is a recipe for disaster. But that’s a difference of opinion, and a perfectly legitimate one to solve via the political process. Refusing to pay bills you’ve already run up isn’t. Neither is risking the country’s credit rating and its historic position as the world’s most reliable lender.

There’s another reason to do this via the normal budget process too: it’s entirely feasible. When John Boehner says that he wants a 1:1 ratio of spending cuts to debt ceiling increases, he’s using a ten-year baseline. In other words, a $1 trillion increase in the debt ceiling requires a $100 billion cut in annual spending. This is an amount that Obama and congressional Democrats have already agreed to in the past, and finding cuts of that magnitude can probably be done via the ordinary give and take of the legislative process.

Maybe not, of course. Maybe Republicans will end up shutting down the government. That would be terrible public policy, but it wouldn’t be a complete breakdown of America’s commitment to pay its bills. It’s the right road for Republicans to take if they insist on holding hostages yet again.

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