Friday, July 15, 2011

Cynicism about the Debt Ceiling

Jonathan Bernstein puts his finger on the GOP’s priorities in the debt-ceiling negotiations: "Republicans, apparently, care so much about not raising the debt limit that they are willing to give up deficit reduction to get it.” I have no quarrel with his view that, as a matter of budgetary policy, that’s “madness” on the part of a committed conservative.  And I appreciate Bernstein's characteristic sympathy for professional politicians trying to channel the passions generated by their political base into responsible (or at least not too irresponsible) government while they’re playing partisan politics:
“[The] real, honest principle here is that the limit must be raised with only Democratic votes, and that for that principle they're willing to give up reducing the deficit. To be sure, that sounds like an incredibly cynical, self-serving position for GOP Members of Congress to take...but in fact one might argue that it is the position being forced on them by the grass roots.”
My only quarrel with Bernstein is that he’s asking us to excuse congressional Republicans for taking “an incredibly cynical, self-serving position.” Is it "incredibly cynical" for Republicans to be trying to use the debt-ceiling negotiations as an occasion to differentiate themselves dramatically from Democrats in anticipation of the next election--especially if they’re doing it in a way that opens up an avenue of escape from a public default? Is Mitch McConnell acting more cynically than Eric Cantor?

There's nothing especially cynical about staging symbolic votes in anticipation of the next election. Indeed, it’s perfectly ordinary democratic politics that enables the winners of the next election to decipher their mandate. I would have held congressional Democrats in higher esteem if they'd had it in them to bring up a tax bill in the last congressional session that extended the Bush tax cuts in middle-class brackets and let them expire in the upper brackets as a way of forcing Senate Republicans to filibuster it. That would have enabled both parties to draw substantially the same lines they're drawing in the sand now without endangering the full faith and credit of the United States. If that would have been a “cynical” thing for Democrats to do, we could have used some more “cynicism.”

If you ask me, the thing that’s really "incredibly cynical" about the debt-ceiling negotiations is the readiness of both parties to negotiate the basic shape of the welfare state and the tax code behind closed doors as a way of blurring the lines of political accountability.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful insight.

It is astounding that such important decisions are being made at the eleventh hour, behind closed doors. The behavior of our government -- and particularly the administration -- of late has been atrocious.

Throw the rascals out!