A “Clarifying Moment” on the Debt Ceiling?

Back in 2011, during our first debt ceiling crisis, Mitch McConnell proposed a solution: the president would be given authority to increase the debt ceiling on his own, and Congress could only block the increase via a veto-proof super majority. The idea was to defuse the immediate crisis, but force Obama to take sole responsibility for raising the debt ceiling over the next two years until his authority ran out.

Greg Sargent thinks Democrats should propose making this arrangement permanent in exchange for accepting sequester levels of spending into early next year. But not because Republicans are likely to accept the deal:

If Republicans refuse this request, it will be a clarifying moment: It will confirm Republicans are fully intent to use the threat of default as leverage to get what they want in later showdowns. And the refusal to renounce this tactic will become what kills any hopes of a compromise. “If a deal fails on that basis, it becomes clear that Republicans are intent on using this as a weapon of extortion over and over again,” [Norm] Ornstein tells me. “It changes the agenda in terms of why a deal failed.” Make Republicans defend this position.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Republicans would have any trouble defending this position. They’ve said repeatedly that they think the debt ceiling is a useful—and traditional—deadline that forces Washington to confront its overspending ways. Whether they truly believe that or not is hard to say, since they’ve raised the ceiling plenty of times without fuss during Republican presidencies, but that’s their story. They may not like the word “hostage,” but they’ve never made any bones about using the debt ceiling as a hostage in order to force spending cuts out of Democrats.

So I don’t think this really changes the agenda much. It just confirms what we already know and what Republicans have repeatedly acknowledged in the past. The big question is how the American public reacts to it as the deadline draws closer and the hostage scenario starts to become more than academic. We’re going to find out about that over the next few days.


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