Breaking news on Tuesday morning: House Speaker John Boehner emerged from a meeting to announce his caucus would support a “clean” debt ceiling increase, without any fiscal responsibility requirements. That’s a big win for the Big Spenders. The growth of government, and the corresponding collapse of the private sector, can continue unimpeded. Do you remember when the Speaker proposed his “Boehner Rule,” calling for spending cuts to match any future debt ceiling increase, dollar for dollar? Please forget all that.
Politically, this will be portrayed as a smart move that avoids another government shutdown crisis, which is probably the one thing Republicans most fear could destroy their momentum going into the 2014 elections. The argument that they don’t want to change the subject away from the ongoing disaster of ObamaCare would hold more water if the GOP leadership put more energy into hammering ObamaCare, but maybe they’re getting ready for a full-court press on that, once the flow of bad news subsides a bit.
I share the skepticism of the conservative grassroots that the GOP leadership is keeping its powder dry for the perfect moment to launch an offensive – their political calendar is covered in eraser shavings from all the penciled-in offensives that have been rescheduled over the years – but if they were ever going to bide their time for valid strategic reasons, this is it. There’s no reason to try hot-dogging on a surfboard atop the Democrat tsunami of bad news. It would give them something to attack, which (unlike the Republican establishment) they’re very good at; the media would be glad to look the other way while Democrats slipped horseshoes into their boxing gloves and started swinging. Better to watch them flail helplessly for a while, while their pals in the newsrooms exchange helpless glances, or perhaps even make exasperated declarations that they’re “getting sick of defending ObamaCare.”
Get ready for a big pitch from the GOP that everyone should sit tight and focus on winning the Senate in 2014 – something they have a realistic chance of doing, and they probably think those chances are pretty good, if they’re willing to throw in the towel on the debt ceiling without negotiating at all. They’ll say, quite reasonably, that it’s pointless to expend political capital now on a turbulent battle that cannot be won, when an entirely different battlefield waits beyond November. The trick now will be to convince a disillusioned base that next time really is the awe-inspiring Next Time they’re always talking about.
It’s going to take a huge amount of determination to get anything good past Obama’s veto pen; it is doable if Republicans take the Senate, but it will take a degree of skill and will this GOP leadership has not often demonstrated. And if they blow it, they’ll be setting Democrats up nicely for a 2016 run in which every bit and byte of bad news is blamed on “the Republicans who had total control of Congress for the past two years.” The memory of the preceding six years will be airbrushed right out of our national consciousness.
The clean debt-ceiling increase is a nominal victory for President Obama, who always insists that he needs one – fiscal restraint is snake oil he sells to the gullible during elections, not something he’s actually interested in. However, it will be difficult for him to claim a victory that amounts to a warrant for limitless spending, after he’s already wasted so much money. As with the Ryan-Murray budget deal, we’re moving closer to erasing every vestige of the sarcastically-named Budget Control Act of 2011, which would be a retroactive rout in Obama’s favor, but he’s no longer in a position to make much hay out of it. At a moment of paramount government incompetence, he’s not going to get much applause for announcing that his slapstick State is now unlimited.
What, exactly, is the point of having a “debt ceiling,” if we accept the insistence of Democrats that it’s the least opportune moment to discuss our mounting national debt – the moment when people who worry about the size of government, and its fiscal stability, most urgently need to put a sock in it, bowing silently before the almighty appetites of the Leviathan State? This “ceiling” was supposed to be an instrument of limited government, but instead it’s been completely transformed into an obscene ritual of worship for unlimited power. We lower our heads as the latest debt ceiling passes, reaffirming our submission to an irresponsible regime that demands the right to spend 30 or 40 percent more than the citizens of the United States have given it – not to deal with some existential crisis, but as a permanent and unending feature of civic life.
There was at least some symbolic meaning to the debt ceiling in times past, some vestigial sense of shame associated with hitting a limit that seemed so absurdly high when it was set long ago. Now we blast through these limits every year or two, and the only symbolism remaining is the defeat and subjugation of the American taxpayer. Clean increases are not a victory for the President over his congressional opponents; they’re a victory of all-powerful centralized government over its subjects. It’s a celebration of unrestrained power, of taxation without representation, as children who cannot vote will be expected to pay the bills accumulated by today’s politicians. Deficit spending will be used to create obligations that tomorrow’s taxpayers will be told they have no choice but to honor; no vote they can cast will allow them to escape the chains we have forged for them.
And today’s votes don’t count for much either, since “clean” debt ceiling increases are a blunt assertion that our elected representatives have nothing meaningful to say about the size of the State. We don’t get to vote on this stuff anymore. How can anyone say we are as free as our grandparents were? At this point, it would show greater respect for the dignity of the American citizen to do away with debt ceiling observances altogether. The Beltway crowd stopped pretending it has any responsibility to prepare a budget at the dawn of the Obama era; let’s be equally frank about perpetual accumulation of debt. We are required to participate in far too many pretenses.