Quotes of the day

posted at 10:21 pm on December 5, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

The White House hardened its position that Congress should raise the U.S.’s borrowing limit without preconditions, adding an unpredictable new element into the high-stakes budget talks.

In a Wednesday speech to top corporate chiefs, President Barack Obama said he wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans on this issue as he did in 2011.

“I want to send a very clear message to people here: We are not going to play that game next year,” Mr. Obama said in remarks to the Business Roundtable, a trade group. He said Washington needs to “break that habit before it starts,” referring to the way Republicans would like to use the debt limit to negotiate further spending cuts.

***

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says Republican threats to allow the debt limit to expire next year have no credibility. …

“I think they learned their lesson with the debt ceiling, I don’t think it’s leverage for them at all,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday. …

“I think they’ve learned that mistake and any talk that that is leverage for them is false,” he added.

***

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled Wednesday that she didn’t want the debt ceiling – and its accompanying drama – wrapped up in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

“Well I don’t think the debt ceiling has a place in all of this,” she told reporters on Wednesday. “I think that we continue the McConnell rule.”

The so-called “McConnell Rule” is a bit of procedure crafted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) under the Budget Control Act. for raising the debt ceiling. It calls for the debt ceiling to increase, unless both chambers of Congress pass a resolution to block it. If that were to happen, Obama would veto it and send it back to Congress, which would need a two-thirds majority to override the veto. This process is a way to symbolically put the onus on raising the debt limit on the president.

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Portman, in a letter he plans to send to President Obama, says he opposes the White House proposal, floated last week, to permanently roll back congressional oversight of the debt ceiling.

The Ohio Republican, who once served as budget chief to President George W. Bush, adds that the debt limit has historically been lawmakers’ best opportunity to get the federal budget in line, and reminds the president that he once voted against a debt ceiling increase.

“For Congress to surrender its control over the debt limit would be to permanently surrender what has long provided the best opportunity to enact bipartisan deficit reduction legislation,” Portman writes in a letter he is currently circulating among colleagues.

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If the debt ceiling were still what it used to be—nothing more than an opportunity, once a year or so, for the opposition party to give speeches on the floor decrying the majority’s profligate ways, followed by a pro forma vote to raise it—then they wouldn’t care about maintaining it. They want to keep it because the threat of economic calamity is a weapon they can use to extort policy concessions they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. Grover Norquist even suggested we should have a hostage crisis every month. …

Eliminating the debt ceiling once and for all may seem like a secondary part of these negotiations, but Democrats really should push it to the forefront. Make Republicans defend the hostage-taking that they did in 2011 and the fact that they want the ability to do it again when it suits them. Maybe then we can finally slay this beast.

***

The seemingly endless series of budget showdowns that have characterized the last two years has a lot of people frustrated, and understandably so. But I think it’s a mistake to attribute that pattern to a failure to seriously bargain, as many critics suggest. It is in fact the only plausible outcome of bargaining given our increasingly problematic fiscal situation. A lasting bargain — a middle-ground deal that provides a solution that endures for many years, of the sort reached in the 80s and 90s — is not really going to be possible in this situation. And the frustration about this has to do with a failure to grasp just what our situation is, and just how different the goals of the two parties are at this point. …

Over and over, the two parties basically try to position themselves in ways that will let them get nearer their versions of deficit politics in the next showdown. What result are all “middle ground” agreements that avert immediate catastrophe by setting up further decision points to come. They are not “grand bargain” agreements that set us on a sustainable course toward fiscal sanity. And there is a reason for that: Broadly understood, the two parties’ goals are not exactly about the budget but about the nature of the government we have, and now that we have entered the lean years of the welfare state they are not quite commensurate.

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Barack Obama says his election victory is a mandate to pursue the policy course he’s insisting on in negotiations with Republicans on the fiscal cliff. He wants a tax increase of $1.6 trillion, $50 billion of new and immediate stimulus spending and the end of congressional approval to raise the ceiling on U.S. debt—the debt that a ratings agency downgraded in 2011.

The campaign stump speech in which Mr. Obama demanded that Congress cede him control over the debt ceiling slips my mind. But we all recall his repeated cries for increasing taxes on “the wealthiest” ($200,000 individual/$250,000 joint), so arguably he has a claim to that. Consequences do come with the democratic habit of holding elections. …

The message of the 2010 election, for Republicans anyway, was unambiguous: Slow down the runaway public-spending train, the spending train that caused the nation’s voters to torch and punish Republicans in the 2006 midterms.

On the available evidence, a Republican who forgets those recent elections is headed for retirement. So naturally Barack Obama wants John Boehner and the Republicans in control of the House to forget those elections.

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