One of the most important elements in any type of conflict is to control the ground you fight on. In politics, that usually means controlling the issues that will be discussed. And for Republicans in the pending fight over the debt limit, that means taking the issue of defaulting on our debt payments off of the table and focusing on spending.
In our country’s fiscal wars there have been three major moving parts: 1) taxes, 2) spending and 3) borrowing. Republicans don’t want tax increases and Democrats don’t want spending cuts, which left borrowing to finance the spending. But now increasing payments on borrowing threaten to gobble future revenue for spending and mandate future taxes; which brings us the recurring battles over the debt ceiling.
Despite the tax hikes in the recent “fiscal cliff” deal, neither Obama nor any Democrats will publicly state that the rich are now “paying their fair share”. They know that with the great unwashed, the politics of envy (AKA, jealousy) is always gold.
They also know that facing up to spending means facing up to reality, and facing reality means making choices, which will set some elements of the Democrats’ coalition at odds against each another. If pretty much your entire political party is built out of constituent groups bought off with tax dollars, then you better keep the punch-bowl filled or the party’s over.
All of which means that this will be a fight for long-term political survival – where a lot of Republicans who supported the fiscal cliff deal (and it’s tax hike) try to get some of their anti-tax virginity back, and Democrats work to avoid cutting taxpayer subsidies to their political coalition.
Obama’s main weapon is his rhetoric. He will attempt to control the terms of the debate to cower Republicans into keeping the spigot open by making Republicans look irresponsible for not wanting to borrow more money to pay back money we’ve already borrowed. He will claim that Republicans are going to put the nation into default, and the media will enthusiastically carry his water.
What Republicans should do is simple:
First, have the House pass legislation directing the Treasury to pay all upcoming US debt payments via the first-fruits of all revenue. The dirty little secret about this “default” business is that we collect more than enough revenue to pay our debts, it’s just that we spend so much more than we take in on everything else.
Second, when Reid and Obama reject option number one, have the House pass legislation authorizing the Treasury to sell bonds (raise the debt limit) for the specific amount of money relative to three-months of new debt payments. At this point, default is no longer an issue. Republicans will have taken action (twice now) to “pay our bills” as Obama says. Now whether or not there is a default would lay squarely with Reid and Obama.
Third, (and in conjunction with the second item) announce that there will be no debt limit extensions for “new” spending (rather than debt payments) until Congress passes a budget. Democrats have prevented passage of a budget for over three years because a lack of one locks in the high rates of spending growth that were part of the last budget in 2009. They want the beast to keep growing on auto-pilot.
The argument for Republicans to make is that it is irresponsible to agree to further debt limit increases without an actual plan for how that future borrowed money would be spent. This should be non-negotiable. Once there is a budget, it could trigger another debt extension that would allow time for negotiations over entitlements, which are the real drivers of the debt.
Fourth, when negotiating on spending, propose something that almost eighty percent of Americans support (which is about thirty percent more than ever supported Obamacare) – across the board spending cuts. After putting up with years of Democrats swinging the word “fair” like a club, it’s time for Republicans to do the same. And Americans agree that “across the board” is “fair”.
Fifth, take a page from Obama’s playbook and include a demand that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the debate at hand: demand a one-year moratorium on new regulations…for the good of the economy.
The point of all of this is that it will leave Obama and the Democrats either putting us into default themselves, or agreeing to negotiate cuts in spending and give the GOP a boost on fiscal issues with the public. This would alter the political playing field for the foreseeable future towards real reform and ground that Democrats don’t like.
By the time Obama leaves office, fifty percent of our country’s national debt from George Washington to today would have been pilled up under his administration. That’s his legacy.
By focusing on the spending, Republicans can make him and the Democrats own it