By this point, the script for Washington's upcoming budget battle seems preordained: President Obama requests that the federal debt limit be raised by Congress, with no legislation tacked on, and House Republicans say no, leading to a standoff that freaks out global markets and is only resolved by an 11th hour deal that makes everybody angry. But this time may be different. "We're discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension," with no add-ons, says Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the influential House Budget Committee chairman, from the House GOP retreat in Virginia. That gives the GOP "a better chance of getting the Senate and the White House involved in discussions in March," when automatic spending cuts — the "sequester" postponed in the fiscal cliff deal — take effect.
"Though a short-term extension might be seen as a momentary surrender, it could tie the debt topic into discussions about across-the-board military and domestic spending cuts set to hit March 1," explains Ashely Parker in The New York Times. The stopgap measure financing the government expires in March, too, and "Republicans say the timing could give them more room to fight for cuts." Of course, GOP leaders are also worried about the politics of blocking an increase in the debt ceiling, so they are, as Ryan says, urging their caucus to "recognize the realities of the divided government that we have."
I'm coming around to the view of the "party establishment" that "if you try to govern from one house — e.g., force spending cuts with cliffhanging brinkmanship — you lose," says Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post.
You not only don't get the cuts.... You get humiliated by having to cave in the end. And you get opinion polls ranking you below head lice and colonoscopies in popularity.... The debt-ceiling deadline is coming up. You can demand commensurate spending cuts, the usual, reasonable Republican offer. But you won't get them. Obama will hold out. And, at the eleventh hour, you will have to give in as you get universally blamed for market gyrations and threatened credit downgrades.
The more prudent course would be to find some offer that cannot be refused, a short-term trade-off utterly unassailable and straightforward. For example, offer to extend the debt ceiling through, say, May 1, in exchange for the Senate delivering a budget by that date — after four years of lawlessly refusing to produce one.... Republicans should develop a list of such conditions — some symbolic, some substantive — in return for sequential, short-term raising of the debt ceiling. But the key is: Go small and simple. Forget about forcing tax reform or entitlement cuts or anything major. If Obama wants to recklessly expand government, well, as he says, he won the election. [Washington Post]
In other words, business as usual, says Julie Borowski at FreedomWorks. Instead of lurching "from one manufactured crisis to the next," Congress needs to get serious about our fiscal mess. "Maybe, just maybe, if Washington actually gets serious about cutting spending then we wouldn't have to go through the same tired debt ceiling drama nearly every single year." Until Washington stops its "drunken spending spree," I say "NO to a clean debt ceiling hike." Yeah, unless this talk of a short-term debt limit hike "is a simple ploy to buy time, because the caucus is so divided over what to demand as a price of raising the ceiling, I don't see the point," says Allahpundit at Hot Air. House Republicans don't have to wait until March to deal with the spending cuts and budget, after all, so "if they're asking for extra time, it's only because they're not ready to formulate their 'ask.'"
Republicans should pass and argue for a debt-limit increase that cuts spending, and then when Obama rejects it, they should offer him a choice, says Keith Hennessey in The Wall Street Journal.
He can have a long-term debt-limit increase if he agrees to cut spending, or he can have repeated, short-term increases without spending cuts. If the president continues to dodge the country's long-term spending problem, the solution is to force him to ask Congress every few months to give him the authority to borrow more while facing questions about why he refuses to restrain spending.... Congressional Republicans would explain that they will support the first alternative — a long-term debt-limit increase coupled with spending cuts. They will allow short-term debt increases to occur — but they will not support them.... Then he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would have to ensure that all 197 House Democrats vote aye. House Speaker John Boehner would commit to delivering only the 20 or so Republican votes that are needed to ensure the bill passed.
It's hard to overstate how much members of Congress in both parties hate to vote for a debt-limit increase, and how entitled to ducking the vote House Democrats feel because they're in the minority. The point of this strategy is to force Democrats to take responsibility for more borrowing without spending cuts, over and over again.... If Mr. Obama now not only refuses to lead, but prevents others from doing so, then congressional Democrats should bear the political weight of voting to raise the debt limit every three months until voters make their choice in the next election. [Wall Street Journal]
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Russia's giant spy ship was a high-tech disaster waiting to happen
- America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How American businessmen are ruining American business — and the U.S. economy
- 10 things you need to know today: September 2, 2014
- The Obama era is over. The presidency continues.
- On ISIS, neocons and liberal hawks have a 'boy who cried wolf' problem
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September
Subscribe to the Week