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On Friday the House of Representatives passed the Boehner bill to raise the federal debt ceiling, with a majority of Republicans supporting the bill. This will be hailed as a victory for House Republican leadership, but in truth, it is their death knell.
The Democrat-controlled Senate will take the Boehner bill, change it to Harry Reid and Obama’s liking and send it back to the House. It will contain neither a balanced budget amendment nor any structural reforms to control spending, only cosmetic procedural devices to allow Republicans to claim a hollow victory.
The Democrats game is: Heads I win, tails you lose, and Republicans must applaud or be labeled obstructionists. This is what passes for “bipartisan leadership” in our nation’s capital.
The most frustrating thing about this debate is that the objective facts of the matter are indisputable. If President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget had been adopted, the national debt would double in 10 years. Obama’s spending has added to the debt at a rate three times faster than seen under President Bush. Moreover, Obama has no plan for reducing the debt other than tax increases. Yet the Republican leadership cannot mount a winning strategy. The accumulated wisdom among the Republican leadership came down to – what? They decided to punt.
How did Republicans get into this mess? They passed the Cut, Cap and Balance bill, but then gave up on it when the Senate Democrats killed it on a procedural vote. Democrats stick to a strategy, while Republicans improvise a new one each day. Folks, improvised strategy are a euphemism for no strategy.
Why do I say the Boehner bill is no substitute for a winning strategy? The Heritage Foundation, which is not exactly a tea-party pitchfork brigade, hit the nail on the head when it said this about the Boehner bill: “Even if the Boehner bill passed and became law, America would continue its downward spiral into a fiscal abyss with no end in sight.”
The $64,000 question is: Why did Speaker Boehner ever think his bill would get an up-or-down vote in the Senate? When House conservatives forced him to admit that Sen. Reid would instead amend his bill and send back a toothless one, his whole “strategy” collapsed. He had no strategy worthy of the name. The lesson here is that when you set out to “seek compromise” instead of victory, your opponent will dictate the terms of the compromise.
The second lesson of the inept, self-defeating Boehner “strategy” is that Boehner needs to resign. He is a negotiator, not a leader, and on the debt-ceiling battleground his wounds are fatal. Obama got what he wanted, raising the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts, and our grandchildren get shafted.
The fallout within the Republican Party from this debacle will be ugly. In the absence of a winning strategy of their own, House Republican leadership attempted to slander all critics of the Boehner bill as irresponsible zealots. Citizens who want a plan – even a 10-year plan, but a plan with genuine benchmarks, not gimmicks – a plan to reverse our nation’s slide into the economic abyss are “irresponsible”? Who is being irresponsible, tea-party patriots who want a halt to the business-as-usual gamesmanship that got us into the debt cesspool, or the politicians of both parties who want to continue the charade of hiking the debt ceiling every 18 months?
In this theater of the absurd, the 2011 George Orwell Award goes to … Sen. John McCain. He labeled the tea-party patriots “hobbits.” This tells us McCain has never read Tolkien; the Hobbits were the good guys – and they won!
Unfortunately, there are no winners in this mess, only losers. True, Obama has won a tactical victory by escaping from the debt debate without any major restraints placed on his plans for an exponential growth in government spending. But is this a victory that will be celebrated outside Washington?
When the dust settles, the public will understand a fact that cannot be forever hidden by political rhetoric and a fawning news media. Our nation’s credit rating will be downgraded – but not because of the debt-ceiling debate. It will be downgraded because Congress blinked and did not fix the problem. We continue on an unsustainable path of deficit spending. The non-political credit rating bodies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s wanted to see a plan for controlling the national debt, not simply honoring the obligation to pay today’s debt. Plans were proposed to bring spending under control, and Obama and his congressional allies thwarted those plans. Thus, no one can now deny that Obama “owns” the $16.7 trillion national debt.
Republicans have squandered an opportunity to force Obama to deal with the national debt, but that debate over unsustainable federal government spending must continue. Whether Republicans can mount a successful campaign to force Congress to address that problem is now an open question. Regrettably, the number of optimists is dwindling, thanks to John Boehner.