The Democrats have drawn their battle lines on the debt ceiling debate. The Tea Party wants to know where the Republican lines are.
House to vote on debt ceiling
Tonight, at about 6:30 pm EDT, the House will vote on a bare-bones bill to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion with no commitment to cut spending. No one expects the measure to pass. 114 House Democrats demanded an “up-or-down vote” on a “clean” debt ceiling raise. They’re going to get their vote: “No.” Nearly all Republicans will vote against the bill, and the Democrats will split their vote.
Incredibly, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Maryland) this afternoon told his colleagues to vote the bill down. Why? He’s afraid of “a thirty-second ad attack.” That is telling. If the debt ceiling ought to rise, why not say so? If raising the debt ceiling is so vital that even the size of the debt does not matter, why not vote that way?
Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) was the man who gathered all those 114 signatures. He will vote for the bill anyway. He also called tonight’s vote a “political maneuver” and said that the House should “focus” on “problem solving.”
But you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. And the problem is that the government takes too much on itself and spends too much money doing it.
Why the Democrats want a “clean” debt ceiling rise
The Democrats will never admit this, of course. To them, the government spends too little, so long as they can find one unmet “need” to use other people’s money to turn into a vote. The message, from the White House down, is clear: keep spending! People need it!
And Hoyer should know about thirty-second ad attacks—or one-minute ad attacks. Or if he doesn’t, he should talk to his colleague Paul Ryan.
Will Republicans stand firm?
At first glance, the Republicans look like the immovable object against the Democrats’ irresistible force. Or do they? This vote will be easy. But have they the courage to refuse to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances?
The Tea Party wants to know this. Talk of “chaos” in the financial markets doesn’t impress them. They know that without the authority to borrow money, the government will just have to cancel and cut back on its programs. Instead, they threaten to default on bond interest payments. News flash: the US government has been in technical default for forty years! On August 15, 1971, the government stopped redeeming US dollars for gold. More to the point: no one ever has unlimited credit. No one, that is, except a “sovereign government.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has offered a compromise: to cut spending by an amount equal to any debt ceiling rise. Not many years ago, no one would have proposed even that. Boehner did it this time only to show the Tea Party that he’s with them. Peter Welch answered with 114 signatures demanding tonight’s vote. So much for compromise.
If the debt ceiling does rise, that should worry bondholders more than keeping it where it is. How can they know that the government will ever pay them back? (The Arabs hold a lot of those bonds, and they might not wait. Neither might the Chinese.)
Even with the “substantial cuts” that Boehner talked about, any rise in the debt ceiling will show that the government still wants to keep borrowing. A consumer who finally decides to pay down his debt, does not ask his credit-card issuers to raise his limit. It’s time to tell the government: Limit rise disapproved.
UPDATE: The House rejected the debt ceiling rise, 97 to 318, with 7 members (all Democrats) voting present and nine (3 Republicans and 6 Democrats) not voting. (Among these: Representative Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, for reasons that everyone understands.) The 236 Republicans that voted, all voted nay. The Democrats who voted, split down the middle, with 97 yeas and 82 nays.