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We’re Back to the “Next Fight”

The past three years of GOP control in the House have been marked by the rallying cry of fighting “the next time.”  With every budget deadline comes a degree of leverage from which Republicans can extract concessions on reducing the size of government.  Yet with every budget battle, House leadership shirks from the fight and blithely points to the next battle – the debt ceiling – as the consummate opportunity to push for reforms.  After all, a budget battle raises the stakes of a government shutdown.

Then when we reach the debt ceiling, GOP leaders echo the scandalous lies of the Democrats with regards to defaulting on debt.  Default is much more serious than a plain government shutdown, claim the wizards of smart.  But just wait until the next budget battle and we’ll cut trillions in debt, not just billions.

Finally, in October, Republicans made it clear they would never hold up a debt ceiling or a budget bill.  At least that was the message telegraphed to the Democrats.  Yet, amazingly, Paul Ryan is still playing the game.  After punting on two years’ worth of budget leverage points, Ryan is feeling the pressure to put on a brave face about his promises for transformational reforms.  As such, he is rallying the troops on the next debt ceiling fight:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Sunday said Republicans will insist on more concessions for raising the debt limit in early 2014, indicating that the fiscal ceasefire he brokered in a budget deal may not last long.

“We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit,” Ryan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We are going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt-limit fight.”

The two-year budget agreement Ryan negotiated with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) did not increase the nation’s borrowing authority, which officials project will next be exhausted sometime in the spring.

“One step at a time,” Ryan said. “Patty Murray and I knew we weren’t going to solve every problem, like the debt limit problem.”

House and Senate Republicans will discuss their debt-limit strategy at separate party retreats in January, Ryan said.

Sorry, Paul.  You already gave up your leverage.  Democrats know that you are scared to death of brinkmanship, and will never have an incentive to come to the bargaining table unless we replace you and your buddies at the head of the dais.

Moreover, the debt ceiling deadline will probably not mature until well into the summer.  Although the debt ceiling law will be reinstated on February 7, Republicans failed to block the Treasury from using extraordinary measures to push off the “crisis date.”  By the time they exhaust their payment shifts, it will be too close to the midterm elections.  Leadership will never take any risks that late in the year.

As an aside, it’s a real shame that Republicans couldn’t block extraordinary measures as one concession from the October fight.  In February, American workers will begin dealing with the initial shock of diminishing take-home pay due to higher withholdings for health insurance.  The outrage over Obamacare will grow from those affected by the private market to the vast majority of workers who will pay more for health insurance in the employer market.  But that opportunity perished in the McConnell surrender bill.

Finally, there is one other reason we will never see Republicans fight on the debt ceiling.  They badly want to pass amnesty.  There is no worse distraction from amnesty than a budget battle.  One of the few positive results of the October showdown after Senate Republicans sabotaged it was that amnesty was killed for the remainder of the year.  The K Street establishment is not about to make that mistake again.

There will be no next time unless we shake up the party in the upcoming primaries.

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