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Republican Debt Ceiling Strategy Doomed To Fail

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At his press conference today, President Obama made clear once again repeated his previous statements that he was not going to let the GOP hold raising the debt ceiling hostage to their demands for more spending cuts. Republicans, not surprisingly responded fairly quickly by saying once again that they would not agree to any increase in the debt ceiling that was not accompanied by commensurate, and equivalent, cuts in spending. Thus, we’re pretty much in the same position that we’ve been in for weeks now, with little sign that either side is going to blink before we go over the debt ceiling cliff. As I noted earlier today, the GOP is sending word that they’d be perfectly willing to see a government shutdown or a default to get what the want. However, Ross Douthat notes that  the Republican Party is pursuing a strategy that is, in the end, likely to fail:

[Republicans are unable to provide] an explanation of how, exactly, a default or a shutdown would actually prevent the long term accumulation of new debt and “force President Obama to finally to cut spending.” It’s missing because it doesn’t really exist, and it doesn’t exist because of, well, democratic politics. Yes, refusing to raise the debt ceiling or shutting down the government would technically prevent the national debt from rising the next day. But as with the $1 trillion coin, that technical solution would be a political disaster, because being perceived as the agents of an avoidable crisis would weaken the Republican Party’s standing with the American people in ways that would raise the likelihood of precisely the long-term outcome that Congressional Republicans are trying to avoid: A stronger Democratic Party, a more powerful liberalism, and a more expansive state.

(…)

[I]t’s perfectly sensible for Republicans to negotiate over how the debt ceiling is to be raised — to haggle over the extension period and the combination of Democratic and Republican votes, for instance, and to look for a small-ball deal on spending to give cover to the legislators who cast those votes. But there simply isn’t a way for the G.O.P. to win anything big here, given the correlation of political forces in Washington D.C. and the country as a whole. And the fantasy of leveraging the debt ceiling to “force” the White House to dramatically cut entitlements, if actually pursued rather than just entertained, would quickly put the Republican Party on the path to losing the more modest leverage that it currently enjoys.

Matt K. Lewis voices similar concerns:

A good political fight pits Republicans against Democrats. When Republicans win, Democrats lose (and vice versa.) Either way, the American public wins when both sides compete for their favor (as I’ve noted before, the GOP should be engaged in transactional leadership — but the transaction should appeal to the public’s better angels.)

But in this scenario, the potential victim in this game of chicken over the debt ceiling would be The American Public. And it would be done ostensibly by the hands of Republicans. That will be the perception at least . (Note: I realize continuing to ignore the debt crisis also hurts the American public — but, fair or not, that seems less immediate. I’m also aware of the nuances regarding the term, “default.”)

This is a lesson one would have thought the GOP would have learned a long time ago. We have a history going back to 1995 where a Republican Congress has tried to force a Democratic President to given in by threatening, or in some cases actually allowing, the Federal Government to be fully or partially shut down. In every single one of those cases, the GOP ended up losing the rhetorical battle and suffering in the eyes of the public. While Republicans didn’t lose control of the House in the 1996 Elections, for example, it’s arguably the case that the shutdown crisis of late 1995 and early 1996 went a long way toward reviving President Clinton’s political fortunes after the disastrous 1994 Elections and guaranteeing him re-election. Additionally, polling after the 2011 debt ceiling showdown and the just concluded Fiscal Cliff negotiations showed Republicans coming out of both crises with their perception among the public being harmed severely. Considering that we’re coming off an election where the GOP lost the Presidency and lost seats in both Houses of Congress, it’s somewhat surprising that they’d be willing to engage in a strategy that is likely to cause them harm in the future.

Moreover, as I noted earlier today, the consequences of a default on the part of the United States would arguably far more severe than any government shutdown. Whereas a shutdown typically just ends up being a public relations disaster for one party or the others, failure by the United States to pay its obligations, whether those obligations consist of payments on the debt or contractual obligations to contractors and vendors, will have serious economic consequences. As Lewis notes, does the GOP really want to be saddled with the tag of being responsible for forcing the economy into a recession? Moreover, if their strategy does result in the nation going over the cliff, it will only lead to the debt problem becoming a bigger issue because, as the last four years have taught us, the biggest contributor to massive increases in the National Debt is a weak economy. If Republicans are trying to fix the debt problem, they’re certainly going about it in a way that is not only guaranteed to fail politically but which is likely to make the very problem they claim to be concerned about all the worse. That’s not exactly smart politics.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    The President is digging in and has drawn a line in the sand. Good. If even the Daily Caller guys think a refusal to raise the debt ceiling is a loser, it’s a loser.
    I note that Doug isn’t calling for the President to negotiate on this any more. Progress .

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 1

  2. Mike says:

    But all of this allows the politicians to be in their favorite spot – national television – very sad all around.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. C. Clavin says:

    He hasn’t left himself much wiggle-room…which I hope indicates he is ready to stick to his word.
    The Republicans have got that cute idiot from Tennessee out on point today.
    Maybe that means they aren’t taking this very seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Dazedandconfused says:

    I’m worried that they won’t let it go. It’s either this or dig into a lot of painful, tedious, and very serious work. IOW, I suspect it was an avoidance strategy, or perhaps a symptom of denial, all along,

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If Republicans are trying to fix the debt problem, they’re certainly going about it in a way that is not only guaranteed to fail politically but which is likely to make the very problem they claim to be concerned about all the worse.

    Just like every other policy solution they come up with. The GOP does not give a rat’s ass about the deficit. What they care about is gutting Social Security and Medicare while finding ever more creative ways to cut the taxes on the rich.

    Just look at the Ryan budget.

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  6. @stonetools:

    Sorry, but some at point there will be negotiations. Obama doesn’t want to hit the debt ceiling cliff neither, I would argue, does the House & Senate GOP leadership. However, if you want a debt ceiling bill to get through Congress, there are certain things that are going to have to be done. It’s no different from what I was saying last month about Republicans and the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts.

    Unless you can find a way to change the minds of a sizable portion of the House GOP Caucus, that’s how this is going to have to play out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 12

  7. gVOR08 says:

    As Douthat quotes the same Politico article Doug quoted in an earlier post, I’ll take the liberty of repeating my comment to that earlier post. This whole “finally” get Obama to cut spending is getting tedious.
    ________
    Lordy. Where to start? I’ll confine myself to the quote from Politico.

    “…to force President Barack Obama to finally cut spending by the end of March.”

    “President Obama and Congress have already pushed through about $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction since the beginning of 2011…” – Ezra Klein
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/10/how-much-more-deficit-reduction-do-we-need-cbpp-says-1-4-trillion/

    “So you heard it here first: while you weren’t looking, and the deficit scolds were doing their scolding, the deficit problem (such as it was) was being mostly solved. Can we now start talking about unemployment?” – Dr. Krugman
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/the-mostly-solved-deficit-problem/

    I have no hope for the Tea Party GOPs, but jeebuz it would be nice if Politico had a clue. And yes, please, could we talk about unemployment?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 0

  8. anjin-san says:

    does the GOP really want to be saddled with the tag of being responsible for forcing the economy into a recession?

    I don’t think they care. They will go on Fox & say it’s all Obama’s fault, and there will be screeches of rage from the base. That’s all GOP politics amounts to these days.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    This whole “finally” get Obama to cut spending is getting tedious.

    You mean… They are going to re-write the Constitution, get it passed by 2/3′s of both houses of Congress, then get 3/4s of the states to ratify it, and THEN they are going to get Obama to cut spending? All before we hit the debt ceiling?

    Sounds a little ambitious to me.

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  10. swbarnes2 says:

    I don’t get how this is a failure for Republicans.

    Doug, you aren’t going to stop voting for Republicans because of this, are you?

    Then neither will anyone else who votes for Republicans. The base loves people who stand up to a black President. Where’s the incentive for Republicans to disappoint their base?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  11. sam says:

    “being perceived as the agents of an avoidable crisis would weaken the Republican Party’s standing with the American people”

    What’s lower than whale shit?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    The GOP has a small band of optimistic fools like Chris Christie and our own James Joyner who believe that the party has a future. That minority of a minority have an interest in actual government.

    The rest of the GOP says, “Hey, we have safe, gerrymandered seats, so fwck the country.” They don’t care about any future but their own because they know they don’t really have one as a national party. They aren’t even going to try to adapt to a future where there are non-white, non-rustic, non-racist, non-anglo, non-Depends-wearing voters that have to be served. They’re going down with the ship on the national level, but hanging on to their safe district. Best of all possible worlds for them. They keep their jobs and get to go on being hateful a-holes.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  13. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Sorry, but some at point there will be negotiations.

    You don’t negotiate with terrorists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @sam: @michael reynolds: The 27% crazification factor is almost a floor, yet Congress is at half of that. But what, 94% get reelected? What michael says.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @PJ: You send them pizza and sodas while the sharpshooters get in place. Hopefully that’s what’s going on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Anderson says:

    @gVOR08: Don’t forget the difference between special & general theories of crazification.

    John: Objectively crazy or crazy vis-a-vis my own inertial reference frame for rational behaviour? I mean, are you creating the Theory of Special Crazification or General Crazification?

    Tyrone: Hadn’t thought about it. Let’s split the difference. Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification — either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.

    I think they’re down to the core now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Spartacus says:

    Doug wrote:

    Considering that we’re coming off an election where the GOP lost the Presidency and lost seats in both Houses of Congress, it’s somewhat surprising that they’d be willing to engage in a strategy that is likely to cause them harm in the future.

    I don’t know if you meant this literally, but I honestly don’t understand why you find this surprising. Not all members of the GOP want a default, but those who do want one genuinely believe they are acting in the country’s best interest and, but for the MSM, the rest of the electorate would be on their side.

    They are, of course, dead wrong, but that’s what they genuinely believe, in large part, because they stay within the conservative information loop and they are in safe, gerrymandered districts. If you ever go over to the comment section on Redstate, Ricochet, NRO, etc. you will find ample proof of this.

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  18. Sandman says:

    @swbarnes2: “The base loves people who stand up to a black President”
    Do you have anything to back that up?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  19. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    “This is a lesson one would have thought the GOP would have learned a long time ago.”

    They did learn it a long time ago. But we live in a country where significant numbers of people cannot place the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War in their correct places on a conceptual time line (and maybe not even on a physical one). As gVOR08 notes, our GOP congress people are either liars or haven’t enough community memory to remember what happened two weeks ago. That they need to learn again a lesson of almost a generation back is not surprising at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. wr says:

    @Sandman: ““The base loves people who stand up to a black President”
    Do you have anything to back that up?

    You mean, aside from reality?

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  21. Just Me says:

    The GOP is right that there need to be spending cuts.

    I don’t think the GOP is going to get them in the debt ceiling discussion though because they still hold a losing hand with an assist from the media who will never question anything Obama does-or at least not seriously.

    The GOP should hand him his debt ceiling extension, because they have no power here. Let Obama send in his budget (although he isn’t sending one in on time-something else the media won’t care about) and argue at that point, but as long as the democrats control the senate and the White House the budgets are going to be all about spending money and going deeper into debt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  22. wr says:

    @Just Me: Oh, if only the media weren’t so mean to those upstanding Republicans who are only trying to do good for their country, everything would be fine.

    Guess that’s easier than facing the truth.

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  23. Just Me says:

    It isn’t really about the media being mean to the GOP so much as it is the media won’t do its job and actually hold Obama accountable for anything he chooses to do. They are soft on him and happily march in lockstep to the beat of any tune he plays.

    Obama is lucky enough that the media holds him to a very low standard of accountability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  24. john personna says:

    So where are the spending cuts? Are we still playing that game where Republicans demand that the Democrats just make some up and do them?

    The interesting question might be whether the House will pass anything before shutdown, and if so, whether the cuts will be realistic, or over the top … grandstanding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  25. Ed in NJ says:

    @Sandman:

    Four years of seeing it with my very eyes?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  26. danimal says:

    If Republicans were serious about cutting deficits, they would be arranging coalitions with stray Dems “What kind of entitlement cuts can you support? “If we offer you X, can you support Y?” The truth is, we’re not seeing that kind of discussion, publicly at least. The GOP is demanding that Obama outline a deficit reduction plan with entitlement cuts, while not proposing any remotely close to passing with a bipartisan majority. Obama, or any Dem, would be extraordinarily foolish to provide any such proposal, especially a few months after the GOP ran against Dem entitlement cuts in the 2012 general election. Make your proposal first, GOP.

    Until there are genuine policy proposals with widespread GOP support and a sliver of appeal to Dem centrists, I think it is safe to assume this is all Beltway posturing, signifying nothing except Tea Party ignorance of the real world machinery of government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  27. bill says:

    @anjin-san: is the recession really over? a lot of the country didn’t get that memo- or maybe this is the new normal?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  28. M. Bouffant says:

    @Just Me: Oh, please! When was the last time a Republican was held accountable for anything, by the media or by the Republican party? Stop blaming your problems on the media. .

    The fault is not in our media, but in yourselves, to paraphrase Shakespeare

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  29. anjin-san says:

    The GOP is right that there need to be spending cuts.

    Yessiree. Let’s start with corporate welfare and defense. Corporations are already sitting on mountains of cash and our military can crush any other nation’s with one hand tied behind its back. Maybe we can cut the pork that Michelle Bachmann and her husband are chowing down on. I am sure there is a long line of conservatives like them that are ready to get off the gravy train for the common good.

    Cuts for the most defenseless members of society. Not liking that. Nor the idea of screwing me out of the “entitlements” that I have been paying into for the better part of 40 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    @Just Me:

    but as long as the democrats control the senate and the White House the budgets are going to be all about spending money and going deeper into debt.

    It’s really like the Bush years never happened for you, isn’t it?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  31. Rafer Janders says:

    @Just Me:

    The GOP is right that there need to be spending cuts.

    Which spending cuts, specifically, has the GOP proposed? Please show your work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  32. jukeboxgrad says:

    We’ve always been at war with Eastasia, and history began on 1/20/09.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  33. jukeboxgrad says:

    Oops, just a bit too slow there. I was responding to “It’s really like the Bush years never happened for you, isn’t it?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Obama’s negotiating speech should be that of Ulysses S.Grant.

    No other terms than unconditional and immediate surrender
    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/

    He should say, ” Pass a clean debt ceiling bill or I will veto if it gets by the Senate, which it won’t”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. Albert says:

    @gVOR08: BINGO! It’a ludicrous to think that the GOP, long known for their alleged prowess in economic policies now have such a narrow view on how to help the economy recover. They seem to forget that the true tenet of “Trickle Down Economics” is that corporations invest BACK into the country and its people. That, along with sensible management of government was a rock solid foundation that saw them in power for nearly a 12 years after Carter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. Is it the GOP that’s truly at fault or the Democrats who keep stuffing every attempt to pass a bill with pork projects that America does not need to be wasting money on? Maybe if the President would ask his side of the table to cooperate and be team players we could have a debt deal for now. We could continue to debate on the GOP’s plan A, B, or C even. However one must wonder where is the democrats plan A? The answer is it doesn’t exist…because all the the nay sayers have done is say no. They haven’t done any footwork other than to lay the frame work for the media and the liberal left to blame the GOP for their shortcomings. That’s the word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  37. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    nice

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. David M says:

    @PatrioticVoices:

    Is it the GOP that’s truly at fault or the Democrats who keep stuffing every attempt to pass a bill with pork projects that America does not need to be wasting money on?

    I’m not sure you’ve got much of a handle on the issue at all. Obama and the Democrats support a “clean” bill raising the debt ceiling, which will authorize absolutely no new spending. That is their plan A, and it’s well known.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  39. dennis says:

    @Sandman:

    C’mon now, Sandman; you can’t be that willfully and deliberately obtuse. Just listen to Ross Hall of Texas: “We gave that guy all that money to buy votes . . .” Really? You’re going to refer to the POTUS as “that guy?” Only if he’s Black. I can’t WAIT for the first Hispanic to run for POTUS. God help him/her if he/she is of Mexican decent!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: I thought I was being rather mean.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    but as long as the democrats control the senate and the White House the budgets are going to be all about spending money and going deeper into debt.

    It’s really like the Bush years never happened for you, isn’t it?

    Not only that, she conveniently ignores the fact that every bit of spending going on right now has been authorized by a REPUBLICAN House and a Senate in which they ROUTINELY block even the most innocuous bills.

    In other words, this spending comes with the GOP Stamp of Approval ™

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  42. jukeboxgrad says:

    every bit of spending going on right now has been authorized by a REPUBLICAN House

    Yes, and here’s some more detail about that. The government is currently spending money under the authority of H.J.Res. 117 (“Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013″). Link. This bill was passed by the House on 9/13/12. Link. 69% of the Rs in the House voted for this bill. Various Rs quoted in the press in the last few days making threats about the debt ceiling (like Scalise and Rodgers) are Rs who voted for this bill. A better example of brazen hypocrisy would be hard to find.

    The spending that the GOP is now trying to block is spending they voted for, and it’s illegal for the president to not spend what Congress has instructed him to spend. Link:

    the Constitution requires that spending be made in full … the Supreme Court held during the Clinton Presidency that even Congress itself cannot give the President the authority to cut spending at his discretion, through a line-item veto

    Congress is threatening to create a situation where Obama will be forced to break the law, because it’s illegal for him to prioritize some spending over other spending.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  43. Rob in CT says:

    Congress is threatening to create a situation where Obama will be forced to break the law, because it’s illegal for him to prioritize some spending over other spending

    And I half expect that is something they want, so they can then bring impeachment charges (they must know that a Dem senate means they won’t succeed, but that’s not actually important).

    Maybe not. But I can’t help it. It’s so easy to believe, based on recent behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  44. jukeboxgrad says:

    I think they are very eager to impeach him. I predicted months ago that they would do so early this year. We’ll see if I’m right.

    But I don’t think they would do it if his illegal act was to prioritize spending. It’s too obvious that they forced him to do that. But the triggering act could be invoking 14A, or it could be the platinum coin, or it could be something about guns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. An Interested Party says:

    I think they are very eager to impeach him.

    So they want to be the political version of the Heaven’s Gate cult…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0