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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Debt Ceiling


The Debt Ceiling

I have been out of commission for weeks due to extensive travel and family commitments, but I wanted to take a moment to respond to some of the commentary on the weekend's events.

Timothy Dalrymple has an interesting take on the budget negotiations at his Philosophical Fragments blog at Patheos. He is usually a witty, balanced conservative leaning blogger, so I take his perspective seriously when he argues as he does that the president deserves to be, and indeed is being, played like a drum by Speaker Boehner. According to Tim, Boehner’s brinksmanship is morally justifiable because of Obama’s irresponsibility and “jello” like negotiation posture, and politically masterful because Boehner is going to get significant concessions in exchange for only keeping the debt-ceiling a closed issue through the 2012 elections.

Now I don’t want to try and deconstruct Tim’s take on the chronology of events, the motivations of the president or the political wisdom of Boehner’s negotiating strategy. Wiser, more connected people than I have already provided an alternative narrative to Tim’s and drawn a different conclusion as to the reasoning behind Boehner’s pull out of negotiations. I am even going to let stand Tim’s take on the president’s press conference (he quotes approvingly Hugh Hewitt’s assessment that it was the most “irresponsible presidential press conference in memory”) even though I thought it was one of Obama’s stronger moments of leadership.

No, I want to focus my considerations on what Tim is perfectly willing to concede was the deal breaker for Boehner in his negotiations with Obama on a larger budget/deficit package. Here is how Tim presents it:

According to reports, about a week ago, President Obama and Speaker Boehner had agreed in outline to a package that included $800B in “additional revenue” by broadening the tax base and eliminating certain tax deductions.  The President took heat from his base, and asked for an additional $400B in taxes.  Boehner and Cantor said no, and this came to a head last Friday.

In other words, Tim is conceding that Boehner blew up the negotiations for a broader package because of the possibility of tax increases being a part of the deal. What Tim does not mention, but what is very important to both the context of the negotiations and the mindset of the Republican party, is that the president’s proposal for tax increases came on the heels of a Gang of Six proposal last week that called for significantly higher tax increases than what the president proposed. This proposal, which had the support of Lamar Alexander, the number three Republican in the Senate, was the brainchild of one of the most conservative Senate Republicans in recent memory, Tom Coburn. So lets be clear—the president proposed tax increases significantly less than Tom Coburn and Lamar Alexander and Boehner/Cantor rejected it and killed the negotiations. This may be political “genius”, as Tim calls it, and it may be “clever political maneuvering”, but I can’t help but be disappointed that Tim merely passes over in the significance of what was done by Boehner/Cantor and instead focuses on the political maneuverings since their rejection. Lets be clear--the House Republican leadership has killed a deal that would have cut the deficit by trillions of dollars, would have taken the debt ceiling instability off of the table for at least two years which would have given the broader economy in America and the world much needed stability, and would have demonstrated that politicians are still capable of principled compromise and yet it is the President who is “irresponsible” because he was visibly upset by this at his press conference? I hope I am missing something, but it seems to me that Timothy has missed the point. Republican orthodoxy on taxes has deprived the national and global economy of a significant victory. 

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