Debt crisis averted

Retreating with a purpose, Republicans sped legislation through the House on Wednesday to avert the imminent threat of a government default but pointing the way to a springtime budget struggle with President Barack Obama over Medicare, farm subsidies and other benefit programs.
AP Wire
Jan 23, 2013

The current legislation, which cleared the House on a bipartisan vote of 285-144, would permit Treasury borrowing to exceed the limit of $16.4 trillion through May 18. As it passed, Speaker John Boehner pledged that Republicans would quickly draft a budget that would wipe out deficits in a decade, and he challenged Democrats to do the same.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to approve the debt bill as early as Friday or perhaps next week. The White House welcomed the legislation rather than face the threat of a first-ever default at the dawn of the president's second term in the White House, and spokesman Jay Carney pointedly noted a "fundamental change" in strategy by the GOP.

House Republicans cast the bill as a way to force the Senate to draft a budget for the first time in four years, noting that if either house fails to do so, its members' pay would be withheld. They called the bill "no budget, no pay,'" a slogan if not a statement of fact, since lawmakers would be entitled to collect their entire salaries at the end of the Congress with or without a budget in place.

With polls showing their public support eroding, the Republicans jettisoned, for now at least, an earlier insistence that they would allow no additional borrowing unless Obama and the Democrats agreed to dollar-for-dollar federal spending cuts in exchange.

The average American family "can't buy everything they want every day; they have to make tough choices. It's time to make Congress make the same choices," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., underscoring the new Republican rallying cry.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker who will be responsible for drafting the budget for Republicans, said Congress has "a moral obligation" to prevent a debt crisis that he said will hit hardest at seniors and others who depend on government the most.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan will take the lead role in crafting a blueprint expected to rely heavily on savings from benefit programs. The budget he wrote last year before being picked as the party's vice presidential candidate was to take two decades to achieve balance.

Ryan's 10-year-budget task will be eased in part by higher tax revenues resulting from the Jan. 1 expiration of a two-year payroll tax cut, and in part from an anticipated $600 billion generated by raising rates on upper incomes. But given the sheer size of annual deficits in the $1 trillion range, it will be impossible to meet his goal without taking large savings from benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, farm and student loan subsidies, the federal retirement program and more.

House Democrats made no attempt to defend the Senate's failure to draft a budget over the past three years, instead saying a mere four-month extension in the debt limit would not give business and the financial markets the certainty that is necessary for the economy to grow more quickly.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his party's senior Budget Committee member, said the good news was, "Republicans have finally recognized the government must pay its bills. ... The bad news is they only want to do it for three months."

Beyond the rhetoric lay a political calculation on the part of Boehner and other House Republicans that they could not afford to set up an immediate confrontation with Obama. At a closed-door retreat last week, the rank and file was presented with polling that showed their support eroding since the election into the mid-to-high 20s, and indicating that increasingly the public believes they oppose Obama out of political motives rather than on policy grounds.

The same surveys show significant support for spending cuts, although backing wanes when it comes to reductions in individual programs that are popular.

Several officials said the leadership and Ryan had solidified rank-and-file Republicans behind a shift in strategy by emphasizing a commitment to a budget that would eliminate deficits in a decade, and the sentiment was expressed Wednesday on the House floor.

"This is why I ran for office. This is why I came to Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Tom Reed of New York, first elected in 2010 as part of a tea party-flavored wave that gave Republicans their majority.

Another Republican, Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, answered Democratic taunts: "This is not a gimmick," he said.

Already, both sides were laying down markers for the struggle ahead.

Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats had already announced their intention to approve a budget, although they have made it clear they will insist on additional tax revenue that Republicans are sure to resist.

In his Inaugural address on Monday, Obama mentioned the deficit only once, and in passing. When it came to programs likely to bear the closest scrutiny from Republican budget cutters, he said, "We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit." But he also said, "The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative, they strength us. They do not make us a nation of takers, they free us to take the risks that make this country great."

The congressional calendar requires the House and Senate to approve versions of a budget by early spring. Assuming that happens, the two are then reconciled, and the resulting compromise sets the framework for spending and tax legislation for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

The president's signature is not required on the budget itself, but legislation that attempts to carry it out goes to him for his approval or veto.

Republicans hope public sentiment will strengthen their hand for negotiations with the White House on those bills, although there are earlier chokepoints they hope to exploit as well. In particular, across-the-board spending cuts are to take effect beginning March 1, and it is something of an article of faith among many GOP lawmakers that the president would rather agree to an alternative that targets savings.

Also, funding for most of the government expires on March 27, giving conservatives yet another chance to try and reduce overall spending. That strategy is not without considerable risk, though. Republicans suffered grievous political damage in the mid-1990s when they engineered a pair of government shutdowns in a battle with President Bill Clinton over spending.

Supporters of the debt limit bill did not estimate the additional borrowing that would occur, but the Bipartisan Policy Center forecast about $450 billion if it is signed into law by month's end. Despite the May 18 date, the group also predicted Treasury would be able to take additional steps that would allow it to meet obligations through at least the end of July.

Comments

Lanivan

Apparently Congress finally got around to reading the memo that informed them that not raising the debt ceiling would create an impasse that could put the full faith and credit of the US government into doubt, possibly lowering our credit rating, and potentially setting off an economic disaster of global proportions.

That, and the sobering, most recent, Gallop polls showing a congressional approval rating of 14%, one of the lowest ever recorded.

Where was the fiscal responsibility and outrage during the run-up to this ballooning deficit, when massive tax cuts, 2 unfunded wars, Medicare Part D, and the resulting Great Recession of 2008-2009 was doubling the deficit?

Perhaps Congress was lulled into a stupor by former Vice-President Dick Cheney's famous quip, "Deficits don't matter".

Vladtheimp

TRANSLATION (For those unfamiliar with the Sayings of Chairman Lanivan) -- It's still all George Bush's fault - it will always be the fault of the evil Boosh.

Note: In the on-going and repetitive Lanivan comments, sometimes the words "Republicans, Republican Congress, Rove," and of course, the evil "Cheney" will be substituted for Bush."

Lanivan

The great thing about this forum is that we all can share opinions and information. In the case of my comment involving the raising of the debt ceiling, and the events that helped to create our current debt, my opinion is based on widely acknowledged, fact-based and easily substantiated information.

If I'm incorrect with these statements, please feel free to give me a heads up, and thanks for your time!

Let's not lower the bar and the integrity of this forum, and refrain from warrantless ad hominem attacks.

As for my Cheney quote, let's all be relieved I didn't use the former Vice President Dick Cheney's famous salute to long-time colleague, Senator Patrick Leahy in 2004....!

Vladtheimp

I'm sorry, your comment seems fairly read as you resurrecting the past in an attempt to place blame - Mea Culpa!

I'm with Hillary:

“With all due respect, the fact is we have a moribund economy for the last four years. Was it because of the policies of Bush or because some progressives took over the government one day and decided to federalize health care, punish the successful and redistribute their wealth? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."

Please explain how re-stating what you said (every cause you mentioned relates back to George W. Bush) becomes an "ad hominem" attack.

I'll see you Cheney and raise with a Barack Hussein Obama quote "We don't have a spending problem." I'm sorely tempted to add a Boehner to Dingy Harry Reid quote to properly place the bar.

Lanivan

Demum.

The ACA is basically a Heritage Foundation rehash, comprised of free enterprise exchanges. Allowing the temporary Bush tax cuts on the top 1% to expire is not punishment for the successful, whose wealth has gone up 400% while the middle class stagnates, but putting a (too small) brake on wealth disparity and oligarchy.

Comparing the Benghazi attack and the devastation of the Bush years on our federal debt/economy/society is a bit of a stretch, although not altogether clever. Ron Johnson was towering as he grilled one of the most popular, powerful, and accomplished women on the world stage.

My comment re: ad hominem attacks is self-explanatory. Please re-think.

As for quotes, I quote Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash, "The public is not behind us, and that's a real problem for our party".

Then there's this from President George W. Bush, "Eight years was awesome and I was famous, and I was powerful".

Lastly, I quote President Barack Hussein Obama, "For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action...".

And Bob's your uncle. Is the bar now properly placed?

Vladtheimp

I repeat - Per Lanivan: It's still all George Bush's fault - it will always be the fault of the evil Boosh.

" Ron Johnson was towering as he grilled one of the most popular, powerful, and accomplished women on the world stage." http://iowntheworld.com/blog/wp-...

Lanivan

The only correlation between Benghazi and Bush Debt that I can see is one of Republican fiscal irresponsibility in the form of over-spending to the detriment of the federal debt during the Bush years, and the House Republican withholding of requested State funds (about $500 million)for embassy security, which ultimately was detrimental to America's national security.

I agree Obama did not state the spending problem clearly. He should have said, "the problem is we're dealing with the largest gap between spending and revenues since WWII".

Funny - I don't recall SOS Powell or Rice being brought to the woodshed over the 64 attacks of American diplomatic targets during 2000-2008.

I agree Obama did not state the spending problem clearly. He should have said, "the problem is we're dealing with the largest gap between spending and revenues since WWII".

What does it matter? Apparently very little to those who giggle over photos of Bill and Monica (hear the bar falling?).

Breaking my vow, I'll call you on Obama and raise with a President Hillary.

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