The adult in the Senate

**Posted by Phineas

In the debate over whether we should raise America’s debt limit (aka “Can I please borrow more because I’m sure the dice will turn hot, soon,” also known as the Obama Budget), we’ve heard predictions of disaster from those who say it must be raised (or a global financial apocalypse will ensue) and shrieking demands from those who say it would be an ultimate betrayal of the Republic if the ceiling were raised one penny.

Okay, I’m engaging in a little hyperbole here, I admit. There are reasonable people making arguments on both sides: that raising the debt limit is needful because even the chance of an American default would introduce dangerous uncertainty into the markets; and that refusing to raise it is necessary to make America go “cold turkey” on its addiction to debt financing, just like cutting up an individual borrower’s credit cards. But there’s also no doubt that there are hard core partisan ideologues on both sides fanning the flames of intransigence for political gain, abetted by a media that thrives on drama and the latest crisis.

However, there are a few adults in the room — or, in the case, the United States Senate. Among them is Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), who penned an article about the debt ceiling that rips the irresponsible behavior of the Obama administration, particularly Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and asks conservatives to take a deep breath and realize there are reasons to raise the limit one last time. First, regarding Geithner and his intellectual dishonesty:

On last Sunday morning’s talk shows, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner once again implied that, if the debt limit is not promptly raised, the United States will default on its debt and the resulting catastrophe will be the fault of congressional Republicans.

But Secretary Geithner knows that congressional delay in raising the debt limit will in no way cause a default on our national debt. If Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling, the federal government will still have more than enough money to fully service our debt. Next year, about 7 percent of all projected federal government expenditures will go to interest on our debt. Tax revenue is projected to cover at least 70 percent of all government expenditures. So, under any circumstances, there will be plenty of money to pay our creditors.

Moreover, as the Congressional Research Service has noted, the Treasury secretary himself has the discretion to decide which bills to pay first in the event that a cash flow shortage occurs. Thus, it is he who would have to consciously, and needlessly, choose to default on our debt if the debt ceiling is not promptly raised upon reaching it. It takes a lot of chutzpah to preemptively blame congressional Republicans for a default only he could cause.

Thus we have it from a rock-ribbed fiscal conservative that refusing to raise the debt ceiling would not be the end of civilization as we know it. Shock and surprise, President Obama and his tax-cheat Treasury chief are trying to scare us with another ginned-up crisis to force the action they want. I think we saw this show before, when it was called “Porkulus.”

On the other hand, Senator Toomey has words of caution for debt-purists who reject any raising of the debt ceiling as an abomination:

To be sure, absent an increase in the debt limit, the resulting sudden, drastic spending cuts would be very disruptive and undesirable. That is why I have always argued that we should raise the debt limit once we have adopted the needed spending cuts and budgeting reforms. But disruptive and undesirable spending cuts are not the same thing as a catastrophic default on our debt.

In other words, yes, there would be unavoidable and painful cuts if the ceiling were not raised. However, while they would not constitute a economic Ragnarok, it would be better to avoid them by raising the limit one last time — assuming serious spending and budget reforms were part of the deal.

This, folks, is good politics, the art of getting what you want by taking less than 100% now, knowing you’re likely to get the rest, later, because momentum is on your side. The public wants federal spending and the debt reined in, even if it hasn’t worked through all the implications, yet. But they also want Congress to get along and do the country’s business: battles over lines of ideological purity lead the vast middle of the nation to call a pox on both parties’ houses. Thus Toomey’s approach, holding out for major reforms but avoiding even any hint of a default, is a good position: it positions the Republicans as firm but reasonable, and forces Team The One to be the spoilers. Assuming all the major players on our side carry this message to the public, we have a strong hand to play in the upcoming screaming argument debate.

And this leads back to my comment about “adults in the room.” I’ve been impressed with the freshman class the Republicans sent to both the House and the Senate: Allen West, Renee Elmers, Christie Noem, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Pat Toomey, among others: we’ve sent some good ones to office. While the debate and the process won’t be easy, Toomey’s article (read the whole thing) is an example of a new congressional class that has the maturity to put country ahead of party and wisdom ahead of intransigence, and is willing to chastise their own leadership when needed.

Now we just need the kiddies to listen to them.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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