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Standing Firm on Spending Cuts, Budget Reforms

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor warned Democrats that the GOP “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” without major spending cuts or budget process reforms.

This strikes me as a wise strategy. Republicans are in a stronger position to get their way in the debt-limit debate than they were in government shutdown showdown. For one thing, a government shutdown would not be not nearly as damaging to the nation as the effects of not raising the debt ceiling. The president knows this; he cannot, and he will not, allow the country to default on its obligations. Doing so would imperil what Obama cares about most, his reelection. That is the central fact Republicans must bear in mind during negotiations.

In addition, much of the public is against raising the debt ceiling; if we have to do it, as we must, it certainly makes sense to link that act to major spending cuts or budget reforms. There’s an intuitive connection the public will make between Obama’s profligacy and having to raise the debt ceiling.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that in 2006 then-Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling and blamed having to do so on a failure of presidential leadership. Obama’s recent mea culpa won’t work; what he said was a matter of public record. His own credibility on this matter is badly damaged.

If one believes, as most Republicans do, that our deficit and debt are survival-level threats caused by out-of-control spending, then it makes perfect sense to use the debt-limit moment to leverage spending cuts and budget process reforms. (Insisting on a vote on a balanced budget amendment would be a mistake; it’s a symbolic vote which doesn’t have a chance of becoming law any time soon. It’s much better to force concessions that can be put into effect immediately.)

The negotiations will be tough; the attacks on the GOP will be ferocious and demagogic. No matter; Republicans should hold shape. They have the arguments on their side and a president who knows, at the end of the day, he has to raise the debt limit. And he will. But he will do so on Republican terms. Because in 2010, Republicans won.


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