Posted at 02:46 PM ET, 05/16/2012

On the debt ceiling, student loans and ‘fake fights’

On MSNBC Wednesday, House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) accused House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and congressional Republicans of turning the raising of the country’s debt ceiling into “a made-up issue.”


President Obama, right, meets with congressional leaders including House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during the July 2011 debt ceiling talks.(Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg)

“It is a phantom,” Clyburn, the No. 3 ranking House Democrat, said of the newly-ramped up battle over raising the country’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit early next year. “Talk to any economist and a lot of them will ask you, ‘Why do we even have that kind of legislation in the first place?’ ... I hope the president will not get roped into this foolishness because that’s all it is.”

Clyburn was responding to Boehner’s announcement on Tuesday that he again intends to oppose any measure that would raise the debt ceiling without commensurate spending cuts.

‘Made-up issue.’ ‘Phantom’ debate. Sound familiar? It should:

House Speaker John A. Boehner scolded President Obama on Sunday for politicizing issues upon which Democrats and Republicans agree, including the need to prevent a hike in interest rates on federal student loans.
“The president is getting some very bad advice from his campaign team, because he’s diminishing the presidency by picking fake fights, going after straw men every day,” Boehner said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In short, both parties on Capitol Hill are accusing each other of creating “fake fights.”

And both sides are right.

When it comes to the debt ceiling fight, leaders of both parties have said time and again that they believe the borrowing limit must be raised.

And as we wrote when the student loan battle began heating up late last month, Democratic and Republican leaders agree that the current federal Stafford loan rates ought to be extended for at least another year.

The real battle — much like during the payroll tax cut debate earlier this year and the government shutdown battles of 2011 — is over whether and what Congress should cut in order to offset the cost of such measures.

Democrats are using the student loan battle as an opportunity to put pressure on their GOP counterparts when it comes to young voters, just as Republicans used the debt ceiling last August as their own leverage moment on the issue of spending cuts.

And therein lies the rub. Since both sides are wielding must-pass legislation (at least, according to party leadership) as a weapon for gaining political leverage, it’s in neither side’s interests to compromise ahead of deadline — just as neither side wants to blink first in a game of chicken.

That’s the reason why so many “fake fights” on Capitol Hill turn into near-crises. And it’s also the reason why, as The Fix’s Aaron Blake noted earlier Wednesday, the next debt ceiling battle looks to be every bit as contentious as the last one.

By  |  02:46 PM ET, 05/16/2012

 
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