With the U.S. Treasury exhausting its current borrowing capacity in October, House Republicans should follow the Trump administration’s lead and lift the debt ceiling — without tacking on any conditions, no matter how well-intentioned.
Both the “crisis” atmosphere and the proper response should be familiar to any Americans who have followed similar debates in the past. Because there is no sizable political constituency for a balanced budget, and economic growth has been patchy, Republicans uncomfortable with seemingly endless or reflexive increases in the debt ceiling have tried to tie those hikes to spending cuts.
Herein lies the problem. Although millions and millions of Americans support spending cuts in general, so many citizens are so dependent on the current budget and tax structure that the cuts that Republicans seek in return for higher debts tend toward the relatively symbolic.
Given the seriousness of the structural challenges facing the country today, and the weak political position of congressional Republicans compared to the White House, risking a costly and unpopular default over token spending cuts would be a big mistake.
One apparent fix would be to target cuts around the parts of the imbalanced budget that Republicans have always worked to reduce. Sure enough, some House conservatives think they can force a party-line cut to entitlement spending by tying it to their debt ceiling vote.
This would be an irresponsible and unwise way of trying to finesse the GOP’s failure to replace or even repeal Obamacare. Republicans are now in a position where they must stand by and watch Obamacare’s failures worsen without looking smug. Hacking away at entitlements will not strengthen their hand come November.
Certainly not every policy judgment is trumped by naked political considerations. But Democrats are themselves in a moment of weakness that will not last much longer if Republicans fail to rise to the occasion and establish greater consensus and confidence among American voters. Holding the debt ceiling hostage, even for “the right reasons,” will not make that challenge any easier.
Fortunately, House Speaker Paul Ryan recognizes that the effort required to move ahead with a clean bill is nowhere near as onerous as the alternative. In 2011, Ryan went to the wire against then-President Obama on this same issue, a battle that resulted in a misbegotten budgetary “supercommittee” whose ineffectiveness begat the dread…