Could today have been the deadline as easily as yesterday?

It’s a bit of a relief, really, to have reached this day. For months, that hyped-up deadline loomed ahead — Aug. 2, Aug. 2, Aug. 2. At the last minute, in the sort of dismal, ineffective, eleventh hour deal everybody had come to expect, Congress passed and the president signed a bill to raise the debt ceiling. In consequence, at least one glorious thing can be said for Aug. 3: It need not be dominated by debt-ceiling-related headlines. But, somehow, it’s hard to let go.

It’s especially hard to let go in light of a new page launched last night on Congressman Tim Huelskamp’s (R-Kan.) website. Before the deadline, a few congressional representatives could be heard saying the nation would not default on its obligations if Congress continued the debate beyond Aug. 2. The faint of heart were not among them. After all, anyone who said that was mocked, dismissed as extreme and unaware of the crisis at hand. But Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told us: Just look at the books. Treasury has the money it needs to meet our obligations. Now, Huelskamp has made it very easy for us to peek into Treasury’s finances.

The Back of the Envelope: Tracking the Treasury” highlights the daily cash flow of the U.S. Treasury and lists the payments that will come due in August. Take a look and decide for yourself. Was Aug. 2 really the deadline? Or might we not just as easily have been still debating the debt ceiling today?

What about the bills to be paid? Huelskamp’s site lists four:

  • August 1st – $18 billion in Medicare payments
  • August 3rd – $23 billion in Social Security and Disability benefits
  • August 10th – $9 billion in Social Security benefits
  • August 15th – $33 billion Interest payment on our National Debt

But what would have been the advantage to delaying the deadline? Given Congress’ great propensity to procrastinate, perhaps not much. But, ideally, as Congress came closer to a deal, Treasury could have eased the tension and given Congress time to actually consider the latest legislation, in line with the transparency promises of Republicans and Democrats alike, who have all agreed it’s important to actually read a bill before passing it, however rarely they actually do that. In that time, Congress might have been able to amend the deal to eliminate any question of a credit downgrade.

“I’d have been willing to spend more time to get a better deal,” Huelskamp said in a phone interview this morning. “Most of our conference thought there was a default impending. If they had known the truth, they might have been more willing to stand for Cut, Cap and Balance. We would have gotten a much better deal if we had challenged the administration’s numbers and forced Tim Geithner to be honest about this.”

Huelskamp said he hopes his site will highlight and confirm “the attempt of this administration to mislead on the default issue.”

“Given the numbers we have, we weren’t even close to zero,” the Congressman said. “The headlines this morning all say, ‘Default was averted’ or “A crisis was averted.’ It wasn’t going to happen. Quite a few insiders knew that but nobody would touch that on both sides. This administration misled us. They had the numbers all along and they tried to leverage this deadline to get Congress to do what they wanted and Congress fell for that. The potential destabilization of the markets is worse. It wasn’t a game of chicken; it was the willingness of this administration to put out false numbers and use that to get their way in this debate.”

However maddening those facts might be, moving forward, what matters now is the work of the Super Committee. Huelskamp said it’s extremely important that someone who has consistently voted for spending cuts be appointed to that body. And, so far, he hasn’t heard anything from leadership that suggests his “no” vote on the debt deal would disqualify him.
“If the Republican conference wants to prove it’s concerned about cutting spending, then they’re going to have to put someone on there who has voted that way that would show to the electorate that we were really serious about what happened in 2010,” he said.
A site like Huelskamp’s has relevance for whoever ends up on the Committee. Most basically and most importantly, it serves as a reminder to look at the numbers and live in reality. The only faction consistently criticized as unrealistic throughout the debate was the Tea Party — when, in fact, conceding to Tea Party demands might have gotten us to the $4 trillion in cuts Moody’s and S&P’s say are so critical if the country wants to avoid a Greece-like decline in credit. Meantime, the president and progressives were the ones burying their heads in the sand, ignoring the obvious: The out-of-control spending has got to stop. They seem poised to do it again as the Super Committee prepares to do its job. Yesterday, President Obama couldn’t utter his now-famous phrase — “balanced approach” — enough. To mollify his base, he’s putting the highest of premiums on tax increases and on spending measures like an infrastructure bank that threaten to hurt as much as help. Republicans better brace themselves for the next round. Aug. 2 was never the drop-dead day and the deadline isn’t “past” now, either. The fight is anything but over.