In the past, House Speakers have treated votes for raising the US debt limit like pirates legendarily treated their loot; they buried it by attaching it to other must-pass legislation. That allowed members to rail against the increase in national debt while explaining that they had no choice but to vote for the increased limits because of the other issues involved in the bill. In an attempt to reform the process and create accountability for national debt, new Speaker-to-be John Boehner will force Representatives to vote on a limit increase with no fig leaf at all:
For the first time in years, House lawmakers will soon have the chance to vote on a standalone measure to increase the federal debt limit next year under the new Republican majority — a vote that’s shaping up as the first early test of the GOP’s commitment to spending restraint.
The House Republican leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, will give lawmakers a chance for a direct vote on raising the debt limit, spokesman Michael Steel told the Washington Times.
That would be a break with the recent tactic of burying the debt limit increase in parliamentary maneuvers — a way to shield vulnerable lawmakers from having to take the unpopular vote — and would instantly give leverage to those in Congress hoping to impose immediate spending cuts.
The move forces Congress to cut spending if the debt limit stays in place. That puts Democrats and Republicans alike in a very uncomfortable position when it comes time to cast this vote, as the cuts will almost certainly have to come immediately, regardless of whatever budget Nancy Pelosi gets passed in the lame-duck session. That will probably mean an end to whatever remains of Porkulus spending, and then some cuts in actual programs — especially anything to do with ObamaCare.
That leaves Pelosi with a card to play in the lame-duck session. Will she attach a debt-limit increase to the budget in an attempt to pre-empt Boehner’s gauntlet on federal spending? If she does, Pelosi will have given the GOP yet another talking point for the 2012 election, especially if Democrats insist on electoral suicide and keep her as Minority Leader in the 112th Session.