Dana Milbank had a provocative column this morning arguing that on the debt ceiling, Dems have become the new party of Ronald Reagan, and that Republicans only honor their alleged hero Reagan in the breach and not the observance. After all, Reagan presided over 18 debt ceiling hikes as President. But for a large swath of today’s House conservatives, the drive to prevent the debt ceiling from being hiked has replaced the now-forgotten push to repeal Obamacare as their number one ideological cause celebre.
Now House liberals have hit on a fun new way of emphasizing this point: They are sending a letter today to every House Republican asking them to raise the debt limit. Only the letter wasn’t written by House liberals. It was written by Reagan himself.
Here’s the text of the letter Reagan wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker in 1983, a copy of which is being hand delivered from the Congressional Progressive Caucus to every House Republican this afternoon:
This letter is to ask for your help and support, and that of your colleagues, in the passage of an increase in the limit on the public debt.
As Secretary Regan has told you, the Treasury’s cash balances have reached a dangerously low point. Henceforth, the Treasury Department cannot guarantee that the Federal Government will have sufficient cash on any one day to meet all of its mandated expenses, and thus the United States could be forced to default on its obligations for the first time in its history.
This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequences of a default or even the serious prospect of default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the cost, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.
I want to thank you for your immediate attention to this urgent problem and for your assistance in passing an extension of the debt ceiling.
Call this a gimmick if you must, but it’s in keeping with the Dems’ broader strategy: Appropriating Reagan’s legacy in the debt limit fight as their own. Dems recently released audio of a 1987 radio address in which Reagan urged a debt ceiling hike. ”The United States has a special obligation to itself and the world to meet its obligations,” Reagan says in the address. For good measure, Reagan even cast avoiding default as key to — wait for it — American exceptionalism.
I don’t imagine that House Dems actually think the words of Reagan will sway some of today’s Tea-infused House conservatives. But they are hoping that the specter of Reagan repeatedly urging a debt ceiling hike for the good of America will emphasize to everyone else just how extreme and ideologically rigid the House conservative position has become.
UPDATE: Baker’s title fixed.