Raising the debt ceiling is a lot of political hard work. So is opposing such an increase. So why not “compromise” and just ignore the crazy thing for a while? That’s what The Hill tells us House Republicans are contemplating:
House Republicans on Monday unveiled legislation that will suspend the debt ceiling until mid-May, setting the stage for a floor vote as soon as Wednesday.
The House Rules Committee posted the text of the legislation as Washington prepared for President Obama???s second inauguration. In addition to preventing default, the bill would withhold members’ pay if Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15.
[…] While past measures to address the debt limit have simply increased the borrowing cap, the House bill would actually suspend the debt limit until May 19. On that date, the debt limit would be automatically increased from $16.4 trillion to accommodate Treasury’s borrowing beyond the $16.4 trillion cap.
The arrangement provides some political cover for Republican lawmakers, since they will not be required to vote for a specific dollar amount that could be used against them in campaign ads.
So nobody will actually be pinned to a vote for, or against, raising the debt ceiling. They’ll just let a pile of debt accumulate, and drop a flimsy “ceiling” on top of it later. Washington fiddles with the fine points of messaging and political accountability, while an appalling crisis gets worse.
In fairness to House Republicans, the American electorate forced them into such tiddlywinks measures by refusing to play like grown-ups. The bit about “not paying” members of Congress because they failed to carry out their essential duties is mostly posturing for the low-information voters, too:
House Republican leaders have billed their measure as “no budget, no pay.” But the bill would not actually eliminate pay for members of Congress if there is no budget in place by April 15. Rather, if a chamber of Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15, all income earned by members of that chamber would be set aside. Members would receive that pay in full once a budget is passed, or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of 2014.
This arrangement was struck as a way to avoid running afoul of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that no law varying the compensation of members of Congress can take effect until a new Congress is in place ??? members cannot vote to give themselves raises or pay cuts.
Remember, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are actually violating the law by failing to produce budgets on time. But it’s not a “law law,” like the kind of laws we little folk are expected to live under. Compare that little delayed-payroll slap on the wrist, which probably won’t pass anyway, to the “tax penalty” you’ll pay for failing to comply with ObamaCare.
It’s always been a sham to let Washington spend gigantic amounts of money it doesn’t have, whether or not the process is accompanied by some vague written “budget.” It’s increasingly clear that the minimal fiscal restraint implied by the “debt ceiling” is a sham too. The last thing anyone seems to want to use a debt-ceiling encounter for is the express purpose of the procedure: a time of sober reflection about government insolvency. In fairness, it’s not a system that was expected to undergo $2 or $3 trillion stress tests with mind-numbing frequency.
The debt-ceiling suspension is meant to provide time for careful debate, and room for Republicans to reach voters with a message about the wild, arrogant irresponsibility of big-spending Democrats. It also gives President Obama a few months to repeat his needling about how he’ll take the power for unlimited spending, if House Republicans are unwilling to exercise restraint. It was awfully considerate of the GOP to reschedule the showdown for a month after Tax Day.