Blame the Republicans

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If the debt limit is once again raised, guaranteeing more crazed deficit spending regardless of any promises accompanying the deal, blame should fall squarely on the Republicans.

The GOP controls the House of Representatives. They command the federal purse strings. Nothing can force them to raise the debt ceiling. There is no justification for raising it under any circumstances. Default is a perfectly valid option, discouraging lenders from continuing to enable Washington’s gluttonous and destructive spending. Or the government can simply cut $1.6 trillion for the next fiscal year and operate according to its revenues.

The House Republicans can easily tell Obama: “We refuse to raise the debt ceiling. Period. Now let’s sit down and talk about what to cut.” And no matter what the president does, the House leadership can refuse to pay for his expensive programs. It is that simple.

Of course, the Republicans would need to propose real spending cuts — not tens of billions or even hundreds of billions but over a trillion. The U.S. could go back to its penny-pinching budget of 2002. You know, back in the horse-and-buggy days of nine years ago, when the federal government remarkably managed to survive on a mere two trillion annually.

This could be done. Or the Republicans could say: “Let’s slash all military-related spending by half, means-test Social Security and Medicare, cut the bureaucracy of every single department by 50%. It’s either that or nothing. We refuse to vote to raise the debt limit.”

But this will not happen, because the Republicans have absolutely no interest in cutting government. These are the clowns who nearly doubled it when they had the presidency in the 1980s and increased it by over half during the Bush years. They love big government about as much as the Democrats.

How else can we explain their failure simply to refuse to increase the debt limit? They won the 2010 midterm elections on an anti-government mandate. At least, that’s what they claim. Indeed, a new Gallup poll indicates significant public support against raising the debt limit: “Despite agreement among leaders of both sides of the political aisle in Washington that raising the U.S. debt ceiling is necessary, more Americans want their member of Congress to vote against such a bill than for it, 42% vs. 22%, while one-third are unsure.”

The Republicans could marshal this public opposition to business as usual for a major political payoff, but instead they agree with the Democrats that the limit must be raised or else hell will break loose. In the end their major interest is in advancing the power and size of the state. As with the TARP bailout, they will ultimately demonstrate neither the will nor desire to stand with the public against fiscal insanity. Instead, we get the same old nonsense: Promises to balance the budget years from now, which has no relevance because Congress can only determine one year’s spending at a time.

In particular, the Republican trick this time around is “Cut, Cap, and Balance.” As Lew Rockwell notes, when Ron Paul, libertarians, or regular people talk about “cuts,” they mean actual reductions in the budget compared to last year. Is this what most Republicans mean when they sign onto this? It’s impossible to trust them.

Consider the substance of this scheme. We are to believe that some petty cuts and “enforceable” caps on future spending, combined with a Balanced Budget Amendment, are going to stop a catastrophe that has been in the making for decades, one that doesn’t even touch on the many trillions in unfunded liabilities that will come to the forefront in future generations. Meanwhile, the bloated and growing military budget won’t be touched at all.

A Balanced Budget Amendment is actually a bad idea. It is a potential excuse to raise taxes, despite any requirement of supermajorities needed to do it, and something that can’t be passed without support from three-fourths of the state legislatures anyway. How can something contingent upon such a major process be a bargaining demand for a debt ceiling that has to be raised in the next couple weeks? This is all a smokescreen.

Twenty years ago, Congress thoroughly debated this stuff. It was clear the trainwreck would come. The Democrats did nothing. The Republicans did nothing. The GOP had Congress in the 1990s and did nothing. They had the presidency and Congress for a few years and again did nothing.

Actually, that’s not accurate. When the Republicans ran the whole show they did plenty — way too much. After years of pleading for a chance to run the White House and Congress, they proved themselves spendthrifts across the board. Even before the excuse of 9/11, the Bush administration was readying its multi-trillion-dollar expansion of Medicare and vast expansion of the Department of Education. Under Bush, the Republicans voted to raise the debt limit over a dozen times. To say Republicans spend money like drunken sailors insults sailors and greatly exaggerates the effect of alcohol on financial judgment.

At least we are seeing the myth of gridlock, one of the last fallacies of democratic politics that libertarians tend to believe, come unglued. Eventually the two sides will come to a deal that will be bad for every normal American, concocted with one purpose alone: to give politicians on both sides of the aisle a way to win votes from their constituents. This economic crisis that should turn everyone away from electoral politics altogether and encourage a mass exodus from both parties will instead be spun to excite the base of both parties. From the deep state’s point of view, higher voter turnout and strengthened partisan loyalties, along with more celebration for the prospect of partisan cooperation to move the country forward, are the best possible outcomes of a financial calamity that should instead turn all of society against the state.

Even if the Republicans were to draw a line in the sand and refuse to raise the limit while demanding a trillion and a half in cuts, it would be too little, too late, and they would not deserve the support of anyone seriously interested in limited government. But they won’t even do that.

Don’t be distracted by Republican schemes and sleights of hand. They are not victims of an unstoppable Democratic establishment or a public opposed to cutting spending. Their talk about a debt ceiling compromise attached to some meaningless vows to cut spending in the future should be dismissed outright. They need only to refuse to raise the debt limit and go from there. No matter what happens, they run the House of Representatives and could stop the spending any time they want. Any continuation of the unspeakable profligacy that has defined the Obama era must be blamed on the Republicans.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is research editor at the Independent Institute. He lives in Oakland, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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