The return of the debt limit gambit

Republicans argue that allowing a majority of senators to pass policy would fundamentally change America. They would prefer that we adhere to the traditional American values ​​of refusing to pay the debts that Congress has already incurred.

Remember, this is not an old tradition. For most of American history, Congress simply authorized each individual borrowing case, and there weren’t many. During World War I, the concept of “debt limit” was established to deal with government borrowing as a whole. And from time to time, that debt limit needs to be increased. It’s usually a superficial process, allowing some members of Congress to complain about the burden shifted to children and grandchildren, followed by a rapid increase in the debt ceiling. The exception to this is whenever there has been a Democratic president in office in the past 25 years.

When Newt Gingrich took over the Maison in 1995, he canceled the ingenious “Gephardt’s ruleWho considered that the debt limit was increased each time a budget was adopted. This ultimately led to the government closings of 1995 and 1996, when Republicans refused to increase the limit because the president, through a historic accident, was a Democrat. In 2011, a debt ceiling showdown under President Barack Obama led to the punitive budget control law and the next ten years of austerity budgets.

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By now you may have heard that a Democrat is in the White House again, and so, according to the law of republicanism, a debt ceiling crisis must necessarily ensue. The party that passed a few trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich and corporate four years ago is now deeply concerned about deficits, a turnaround that should come as no surprise. But in particular, they want to use the debt limit, which the Treasury Department is expected to hit this year, to force massive spending cuts. The House has reinstated its Gephardt rule, but the Senate’s ability to do so cannot bypass the need to overcome filibuster to pass a budget. So we now have two contradictory visions for the country: either a supermajority legislative apparatus which defaults on the nation’s payment obligations, or a majority organ which does not.

The debt limit has actually been suspended since a 2019 deal. But that expires on July 31. Thanks to COVID measures, the United States is well beyond the limit put in place before the suspension. If need be, the Treasury can engage in “extraordinary measures” to keep the nation below the limit. But in late summer or early fall, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, these measures will be exhausted.

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who is no coincidence leading the Senate Republican campaign for the 2022 cycle, is dollar for dollar cuts to increase the debt limit. But that would be much more aggressive than it looks. Republicans got $ 2 trillion in 2011 debt limit reduction, but thanks to COVID we’re already something like $ 5 trillion above the current debt limit target. There would need to be more space for the usual range of annual borrowing, and therefore what Scott proposes would amount to some $ 7 trillion in reductions, which, even if spread over ten years, would amount to some something close to reduction. the entire discretionary non-defense budget each year for a decade. I don’t even think Scott feels like he can get it, but he most definitely wants to get something out of the Democrats.

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Keep in mind that the debt limit is not a spending limit; it’s just a limit to the agreement to pay expenses already incurred by Congress. If the federal government closed its doors today, shut down all of its programs, silenced the military, and left everyone alone, we would still have debts falling due after the July 31 expiration of the suspension of the ceiling on the debt. It’s just a political stance on paying existing bills; of course, the political posture concerns all Republicans who are good these days.

Scott’s bill is presented as “refundFor adopting the March COVID emergency relief measure. That wasn’t a problem for the first COVID relief package, which Republicans eagerly participated in to the tune of $ 3 trillion when Donald Trump held the White House. But the debt limit only becomes an issue during Democratic presidencies. The ideological principle at work here is that when there is a Democratic president, the full faith and credit of the US government must be held hostage.

Everyone, including Democrats, knows this. “Republicans clearly get religion on deficits and debt when they are in the minority. They don’t give a shit when they run the place, ”said Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). Politico. An Obama-era spending cut compromise is unlikely; both sides are rooted. But the foreknowledge of this deficit haste is useless if the Democrats do not take the step in their power to end this hostage-taking, at least under a unified government, by eliminating the filibuster.

There are plenty of reasons the Democratic resistance fighters just don’t want to do this. One of the most misunderstood is that it allows people like Joe Manchin to “Support“The bills he knows cannot be passed without changing the rules. Systematic obstruction is a powerful tool for limiting democratic accountability on a small scale; the Manchins of the world can blame someone else for the country’s unresolved problems by denying themselves the power to solve them. It’s a way for Democrats to gain praise from interest groups while not doing anything substantial to upset their donors.

But the fight against the debt limit is disrupting that. Yes, the blame for the ensuing crisis can still be directed to Republicans. But the consequences, instead of failing to improve union laws or lowering health care costs, are defaulting on the national debt, which is unthinkable and deeply damaging, especially when Democrats have the power to lodge it. ‘avoid. They could end the filibuster, pass a bill to extend the suspension of the debt limit to January forever, two thousand, and forever, and never run into this problem again. The filibuster fiction that supports bipartisanship collapses when a political party regularly threatens Financial Armageddon as a political politician.

If Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and whoever wants to stick to a certain notion of principle and refuse to allow a majority to decide things in the United States Senate, they are the ones who are really responsible for whatever happens as a result of the decision not to honor long. permanent claims. Many issues have come to the fore as issues in the fight against filibuster: you can have minority power or you can have voting rights, labor rights, etc. But it is difficult to defend the preservation of minority rule when the choice is between that and avoiding unnecessary flaw.


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