Commentary Magazine


Topic: debt ceiling crisis

Dems Spin Obama Budget Rejection

The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.

The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:

Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.

Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.

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The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.

The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:

Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.

Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.

It’s not just Republicans who are countering the claim. The Senate parliamentarian also ruled in April that the debt ceiling deal doesn’t mean the Senate can’t take up budget resolutions this year.

Meanwhile, the White House was expecting the failure, and recently began arguing that the resolution introduced in the Senate is actually a distorted version of the president’s budget. They say the rejection isn’t a reflection of Democrats’ views of Obama’s plan:

Last May, Obama’s budget was voted down, 0-97. Democrats noted they could vote no after Obama delivered an April speech calling for deeper deficit reduction than he had presented two months earlier in his budget.

This year, Obama is sticking by his budget, so Democrats are embracing another reason to vote it down.

The White House moved Monday to free Democrats to vote no by saying the legislation embodying Obama’s budget is “different” because it doesn’t contain identical policy language.

Republicans argue that the rejected budget resolution is identical to Obama’s plan, and say the only difference is that campaign-tinged political language was removed.

“If you look at the president’s budget it reads like his campaign website,” a Republican aide told me. “But the numbers are identical to the budget.”

The excuses are pretty flimsy, and Democrats are no doubt bracing for a public backlash. But clearly the party thinks they’re safer dealing with the fallout from rejecting Obama’s budget than being forced to defend his budget in the fall.

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Another Debt Standoff? Let Voters Decide

House Speaker John Boehner is being blamed for setting the stage for a repeat of last summer’s debt ceiling crisis. In a speech, Boehner vowed that he wouldn’t go along with raising the amount of money the government can borrow to cover its debts unless Congress passed more spending cuts. An anguished chorus of Democrats predicting woe to the economy if another debt deadlock drama threatened the nation’s credit rating greeted this promise. The battle lines between the parties on the budget are still seemingly set in stone. Republicans, rightly in my view, don’t believe taxes that will harm an already sinking economy should be raised to allow the government to spend more money that it doesn’t have. Democrats prefer to play the class warfare card about taxing the rich but are still not prepared to contemplate the fundamental reform of entitlements that are drowning the nation in debt.

This means sooner or later there will be another Capitol Hill confrontation in which the two sides will seek to stand on their principles while demanding their opponents give up theirs for the sake of good government. If Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to be believed, that next round won’t take place before the November election, because he said the government has the “tools” to keep the ship of state afloat until early next year. Let’s hope he’s right, because the answer to this stalemate won’t be found in the posturing of the parties or the somewhat disingenuous pious calls of President Obama for compromise. The only solution to this problem is to have an election.

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House Speaker John Boehner is being blamed for setting the stage for a repeat of last summer’s debt ceiling crisis. In a speech, Boehner vowed that he wouldn’t go along with raising the amount of money the government can borrow to cover its debts unless Congress passed more spending cuts. An anguished chorus of Democrats predicting woe to the economy if another debt deadlock drama threatened the nation’s credit rating greeted this promise. The battle lines between the parties on the budget are still seemingly set in stone. Republicans, rightly in my view, don’t believe taxes that will harm an already sinking economy should be raised to allow the government to spend more money that it doesn’t have. Democrats prefer to play the class warfare card about taxing the rich but are still not prepared to contemplate the fundamental reform of entitlements that are drowning the nation in debt.

This means sooner or later there will be another Capitol Hill confrontation in which the two sides will seek to stand on their principles while demanding their opponents give up theirs for the sake of good government. If Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to be believed, that next round won’t take place before the November election, because he said the government has the “tools” to keep the ship of state afloat until early next year. Let’s hope he’s right, because the answer to this stalemate won’t be found in the posturing of the parties or the somewhat disingenuous pious calls of President Obama for compromise. The only solution to this problem is to have an election.

What’s wrong about much of the rhetoric used in the debt ceiling debate is the presumption that the two parties are not offering clear choices. Rather than spend another summer badgering each other to act in a manner contrary to the promises they made the voters, what the parties need to do is to simply go to the people and ask for a mandate. While such a standoff in a parliamentary system would result in the government’s fall and new elections, our Constitution requires that we wait until the next federal election for the same remedy.

The current situation is the result of having a House of Representatives that was produced by the Republican landslide in 2010 and a Senate with two-thirds of its members who were elected in the Democratic years of 2006 and 2008 when they also had one of their number elevated to the White House. What is needed this year is a clear answer from the electorate in which they choose a Congress and a president of the same party who can then put into effect the budget and spending plans they campaigned on.

It is possible that in November the voters will duplicate this unhappy situation by re-electing President Obama along with a Republican Congress. It is also possible, though less likely, that a President Romney will be faced with at least one chamber controlled by the Democrats. If that happens, then it will be time to talk compromise again, as it will not be possible for both sides to have their way.

But until that happens, it would be far better if we heard less talk in Washington about letting the “adults” set the agenda. That’s just another way of saying that we must continue with business as usual and put off making any decisions about reforming the system. While the DC establishment deprecates the efforts of some members and activists to put an end to the governing class merely dividing the spoils, calls for bipartisanship on the budget is merely a cover for avoiding fundamental change.

The two sides of the political aisle have competing visions about how we should operate the government. Romney laid down a marker on this issue yesterday with a speech in Iowa about the “prairie fire of debt” spreading through the nation while the president hasn’t let up with his calls for taxing the rich (even though that won’t do a thing to solve the budget tangle). Instead of pressuring those elected to stand up for one of those visions and betray the voters who sent them to Washington, it’s time to tell the voters to choose. That is the only and the best solution to any political deadlock.

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