In an attempt to reign in President Obama's so-called "tax-and-spend" agenda, Republican leaders have loudly opposed him on almost every major economic issue, including the debt ceiling and the “fiscal cliff.”
However, it's no secret that this tactic of playing hardball with the president hasn’t served the GOP well. In fact, based on the thrashing they received during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, we’d say it has gone rather poorly for them.
So when the House GOP announced early Friday afternoon that they would vote next week to pass a three-month debt limit increase to "meet our immediate obligations," we wondered whether this was yet another concession or whether it was part of some larger strategy.
You see, a handful of conservatives have suggested recently that the GOP drop the “hard sell” and stand aside. Let the president have his debt limit increase.
“Can you govern from one house of Congress? Should you even try?” asks conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “Can you shrink government, restrain spending, bring a modicum of fiscal sanity to the country when the president and a blocking Senate have no intention of doing so?”
He goes on to explain that there are two factions in the GOP wing of the House: Those who are “willing to risk the fiscal cliff … willing to risk a breach of the debt ceiling and even a government shutdown,” as Krauthammer puts it, rather than swallow President Obama’s policies and there are those who eventually collaborate with the White House because they see nowhere else to go.
“Obama’s post election arrogance and intransigence can put you in a fighting mood. I sympathize. But I’m tending toward the realist view: Don’t force the issue when you don’t have the power,” he adds.
The noted columnist explains where he thinks the GOP should take the debt ceiling fight:
The debt-ceiling deadline is coming up. You can demand commensurate spending cuts, the usual, reasonable Republican offer. But you won’t get them. Obama will hold out. And, at the eleventh hour, you will have to give in as you get universally blamed for market gyrations and threatened credit downgrades.
The more prudent course would be to find some offer that cannot be refused, a short-term trade-off utterly unassailable and straightforward.
But the key is: Go small and simple. Forget about forcing tax reform or entitlement cuts or anything major. If Obama wants to recklessly expand government, well, as he says, he won the election.
Republicans should simply block what they can. Further tax hikes, for example. The general rule is: From a single house of Congress you can resist but you cannot impose.
His conclusion is simple:
Want to save the Republic? Win the next election. Don’t immolate yourself trying to save liberalism from itself. If your conservative philosophy is indeed right, winning will come. As Margaret Thatcher said serenely of the Labor Party socialists she later overthrew: “They always run out of other people’s money.”
Krauthammer isn’t alone in this thinking. The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein agrees:
[Republicans] should give Obama his debt limit increases without preconditions, and they shouldn't allow any government shutdowns.
Meanwhile, Republicans should use their majority in the House to pass bills that actually do address the nation's problems -- its economic stagnation, rising energy and health care costs, mounting debt and so on. At the same time, they can keep blocking major new expansions of government.
This two-pronged strategy would allow Republicans to isolate Obama and establish themselves as the responsible ones. If he refuses to get serious about addressing the nation's debt problem, it will be a lot harder to escape responsibility if he can't point and say, "Hey, look over there, House Republicans want to blow stuff up."
In the unlikely event that this forces Obama to get serious about tackling the national debt, great. But if he doesn't, Obama's legacy will be that of a president who came into office promising to make the "tough choices" necessary to solve our nation's problems, then proceeded to duck them. Meanwhile, Republicans will have laid out their own vision, and their candidates will have a stronger case to make in 2014 and 2016.
Klein concludes by saying that the GOP can either back off the “hard sell” and allow the president to dig his own economic grave or they can continue losing to President Obama.
And now we come to the important part -- the part where House Republicans announce that they will authorize a short-term extension of the debt limit next week:
Cantor: "Next week, we will authorize a three month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget."
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) January 18, 2013
"All options are on the table as far as we're concerned," Rep. Ryan (R-Wisc) said yesterday. He added that GOP leaders were currently discussing how best to "achieve progress on controlling our deficits and controlling our debt."
"The worst thing for the economy is for this Congress and this administration to do nothing to get our debt and deficits under control," he added. "We think the worst thing for the economy is to move past these events that are occurring without any progress."
The Senate Minority Whip agrees with Rep. Ryan.
"We will raise the debt ceiling. We're not going to default on our debt," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). "I will tell you unequivocally, we're not going to default."
Exit Question: Are House Republicans rallying behind this short-term extension because they are caving to pressure or is this part of some larger plan to reign in President Obama's spending policies?
Boehner spox says the ONLY condition of the 3-month debt limit hike is Senate passing budget (or it gets no pay). No spending cuts attached
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) January 18, 2013
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UPDATE: This article accidentally referred to Krauthammer as a "conservative communist." We meant to write "columnist." Krauthammer's a conservative columnist. Huge, huge difference.