Let’s connect the dots and see who is being more honest and straightforward in negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling. (And for readers who think the debt ceiling fight doesn’t affect them, you’re just flat out wrong.)
There are four simple ways to tell House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) isn’t being serious-minded about the Republican Party’s efforts at reaching a compromise with Democrats.
First, Boehner’s stiff speech July 25 responding to President Obama’s televised address earlier that evening about the impasse contained a couple of glaring errors and misleading statements.
Boehner alleged the House had passed a plan, the “Cut, Cap and Balance Act,” with bipartisan support. That bill — which would cut current spending, cap the amount of future spending, require Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and raise the federal debt ceiling — is based on highly questionable numbers. It would reduce spending by $111 billion next year by cutting non-security discretionary spending below 2008 levels, which saves $76 billion. It also would radically alter Medicare and Social Security, while providing added protection for tax breaks for billionaires and special interests.
Put more succinctly, the wealthy get another perk while the middle class takes it on the chin again.
Whatever the bill’s dubious merits, Boehner played fast and loose with the facts. It passed the House in a 234-190 vote. Yes, five Democrats sided with Republicans to support the bill, but that’s hardly a groundswell. In fact, nine Republicans joined Democrats in opposition. That’s an awfully broad definition of bipartisan that you’re using, Mr. Speaker.
Later in his speech, Boehner assured Americans that the GOP’s bill would sail through the Senate, too. “Obviously, I expect that bill can and will pass the Senate and be sent to the President for his signature,” he said. “If the President signs it, the ‘crisis’ atmosphere he has created will simply disappear.”
But the Democratic-controlled Senate already has tabled Cut, Cap and Balance. Even some Republican senators have indicated they might oppose it if revived for a vote.
The second major method that Americans have for identifying Boehner’s misstatements and rewriting of history is to merely examine his ever-shifting reasons for rejecting compromise plans put forward by Democrats.
“Unfortunately, the president would not take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Boehner said in his July 25 speech.
“Even when we thought we might be close on an agreement, the president’s demands changed.”
Yes, they changed — to the GOP’s favor, if you believe the stated reasons for the impasse. Republicans sought to cut the deficit by $2 trillion in 12 years. Obama countered with a plan to cut it by $4 trillion — double the Republican amount — in exchange for the GOP agreeing to close tax loopholes for the wealthy and deeper cuts in security spending.
Compromise is all about giving up one thing in exchange for gaining another; merely making a series of demands and standing firm isn’t what negotiation or politics is all about. But Boehner, who has been in Congress for nearly 21 years, already knows this.
On the same day Boehner gave his disingenuous speech, he also rejected an alternate plan proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). Boehner disliked that Reid’s plan counted on $1 trillion in savings from gradually winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview on CNBC, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was forced to admit that the GOP’s initial budget plan crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and even Cut, Cap and Balance counted on savings from ending the wars, too.
What this really sounds like is Republicans are grasping for a reason — any reason — to oppose plans proposed by Democrats. Not exactly what you’d call a good faith effort.
The third major method for piercing Boehner’s veil of deceit is to examine his own voting record. In his two decades in Congress, Boehner has voted to raise the federal debt ceiling five times, with nary a word about the action.
In 2002, Boehner voted for a $450 billion increase. In 2003, he voted for a $900 billion increase. In 2004, he voted for an $800 billion increase. In 2006, he voted for a $781 billion increase. In 2007, he voted for an $850 billion increase.
For those who don’t have a calculator handy, Boehner’s votes increased the debt limit by $4 trillion in the span of five years. So, what’s different now? That’s right, there’s a Democrat in the White House.
The fourth, final and most important method for calling out Boehner on his shameless politicking is to quote the man himself. Back in December, as Boehner was preparing to become House Speaker, The New Yorker did a long profile that included an interview.
In a section previewing potential problems with the hardcore Tea Party followers who had just been elected, Boehner said:
“This is going to be probably the first really big adult moment” for the new Republican majority, Boehner told me. “You can underline ‘adult.’ And for people who’ve never been in politics it’s going to be one of those growing moments. It’s going to be difficult, I’m certainly well aware of that. But we’ll have to find a way to help educate members and help people understand the serious problem that would exist if we didn’t do it.”
Serious problem, indeed.
If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the United States would default on its obligations. In that instance, the nation’s credit rating likely would fall, which would curtail foreign investment and lead to higher interest rates for just about everything — which isn’t good for an economy sputtering out of a recession and burdened with a 9.2 percent unemployment rate.
Moreover, if the Treasury Department loses its authority to borrow money, many federal projects would be jeopardized. And we’re not talking pork but rather items like highway projects, federal courts and federal prisons. Up to 45 percent of federal spending could be affected.
Here’s how William Gale of the centrist Brookings Institute described the issue for U.S. News & World Report: “In short, raising the debt limit has nothing to do with controlling future spending or with raising the taxes necessary to pay for future spending. It is just a matter of paying bills that we’ve already incurred.”
Gale added, “Raising the debt limit is a completely ordinary event. The limit has been raised 74 times in the last 50 years, and 10 times in the last 10. Debt limit increases are associated with both Republicans and Democrats.”
And for the record, policies enacted by President George W. Bush account for $5.07 trillion of the deficit, while policies enacted by Obama account for $1.44 trillion. The GOP’s feckless response back then was “deficits don’t matter,” as Dick Cheney famously said.
Just as Boehner predicted eight months ago, we’re having an adult moment in Washington, but the adults are in short supply. Maybe it’s time the priests at the Speaker’s alma mater, Moeller High School, take him aside for some gentle but firm counseling about the responsibility of power.
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