Think there will eventually be a bipartisan deal to increase the public debt limit after an extended period of Kabuki Theater posturing? Maybe it’s time to think again.
Ezra Klein really hits the nail on the head in describing the “negotiations” as they stand today:
The negotiation that we’re having, in theory, is how to cut the deficit in order to give politicians in both parties space to increase the debt limit. But if you look closely at the positions, that’s not really the negotiation we’re having. Republicans are negotiating not over the deficit, but over tax rates and the size of government. That’s why they’ve ruled revenue “off the table” as a way to reduce the deficit, and why they are calling for laws and even constitutional amendments that cap federal spending rather than attack deficits. Democrats, meanwhile, lack a similarly clear posture: most of them are negotiating to raise the debt ceiling, but a few are trying to survive in 2012, and a few more are actually trying to reduce the deficit, and meanwhile, the Obama administration just met with the Senate Democrats to ask them to please, please, stop laying down new negotiating markers every day.
If we were really just negotiating over the deficit, this would be easy. The White House, the House Republicans, the House Progressives, the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans have all released deficit-reduction plans. There’s not only apparent unanimity on the goal, but a broad menu of approaches. We’d just take elements from each and call it a day. But if the Republicans are negotiating over their antipathy to taxes and their belief that government should be much smaller, that’s a much more ideological, and much tougher to resolve, dispute. The two parties don’t agree on that goal. And if the Democrats haven’t quite decided what their negotiating position is, save to survive this fight both economically and politically, that’s not necessarily going to make things easier, either. Negotiations are hard enough when both sides agree about the basic issue under contention. They’re almost impossible when they don’t.
It’s worth underlining that “deficits” and “debt” don’t in themselves mean any more to conservatives than they did when then-Vice President Dick Cheney said “deficits don’t matter” in 2002. Every Republican “deficit reduction” proposal is keyed to specific spending cuts–without new revenues–and increasingly, to an arbitrary limit on spending as a percentage of GDP. Even the version of a constitutional balanced budget amendment that Sen. Jim DeMint is insisting on as part of any debt limit deal would have a spending-as-percentage-of-GDP “cap” (at 18%, as compared to about 24% currently) that would force huge spending reductions (you can guess from where since GOPers typically consider defense spending as off-limits as taxes).
Today’s Republicans are simply using deficits as an excuse to revoke as much of the New Deal/Great Society tepid-welfare-state system as they can get away with. And it’s really just a latter stage of the old conservative Starve-the-Beast strategy for deliberately manufacturing deficits in order to cut spending. Democrats should point this out constantly, and not let Republicans get away with claiming they are only worried about debt and fiscal responsibility.