After weeks of fruitless negotiations, the debt-ceiling showdown is coming down to a pair of unanswered questions. Is President Obama really prepared to risk the debacle that a failure to raise the debt ceiling might cause for the economy? And are the Republicans prepared for the deluge of abuse the president and his cheering section in the mainstream media are about to rain down on their heads if they stand their ground and refuse to go along with the tax increases that Obama demands as part of the price for an agreement?
The answer to the first question is yes. Everything the president has said and done in recent days shows he is not merely prepared to face the negative consequences for the economy that a blowup on the debt would incur; he is inviting them. Obama’s goal is to avoid making the tough choices he’s always prattling about prior to the 2012 election. Since he believes the polls that tell him his demagogic attacks on the Republicans about taxing the rich will absolve the Democrats of blame for the crisis, he appears to be seeking the fiasco that he claims to be working to avoid. Obama thinks he is in a no-lose position. Either the GOP will fold and agree to tax increases or he will saddle them with all of the responsibility for the impact of the debt crisis.
The answer to the second question is less than clear. Those Republicans who remember 1995 are understandably worried that going to the brink with the White House will expose them to the same kind of abuse that sank the GOP-led Congress in that dispute. Though they have avoided most of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s foolish mistakes in confronting President Clinton, they know a principled stand against further growth of government and taxes will be portrayed in much of the mainstream media as extremism. A president always has the advantage in a duel with a divided Congress ,because he can speak with one voice while the party out of power cannot. Though the voters put them into office to cut the size of government and lower taxes, that cause will be lost if they allow the president to paint them as rabid obstructionists.
That makes it imperative that House Republicans respond to the president’s brinksmanship by quickly passing their own debt plan with no tax increases and force either Senate Democrats or the president to veto it. If they cannot pull together and do that, then chances are they play right into Obama’s hands. Obama will back down and accept a short-term plan only if he thinks he will be blamed for the debt fallout. Though there is a faction in the House that actually thinks a default would be a good thing, the GOP must pull itself together and act. Their goal must be to survive the coming onslaught and keep the fight for smaller government alive.