First, it was the Bush tax cuts. Then it was cuts to the 2011 budget. Now it’s spending cuts as a condition on raising the debt ceiling. In each instance the left opposed the Republicans’ position. In each case the Democrats in Congress huffed and puffed. And in each case the Democrats capitulated.
The Post reports today:
A growing number of Democrats are threatening to defy the White House over the national debt, joining Republican calls for deficit cuts as a requirement for consenting to lift the country’s borrowing limit.
The tension is the latest illustration of how the tea-party-infused GOP is driving the debate in Washington over federal spending. And it shows how the debt issue is testing the Obama administration’s clout as Democrats, particularly those from politically competitive states, resist White House arguments against setting conditions on legislation to raise the debt ceiling.
You recall that the president and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned that failure to produce a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit would be disastrous. Now, a debt-limit increase without spending restraints is out of the question:
And although many lawmakers and aides say a bipartisan deal is likely, the insistence on conditions by a small but pivotal group of Democrats suggests that any agreement would almost certainly have to include substantial cuts in the deficit — not just to mollify House Republicans but to satisfy Democrats who could be politically vulnerable on spending issues.
“As catastrophic as it would be to fail to raise our debt ceiling, it’s even more irresponsible to not take this opportunity to own up to our unsustainable spending path,” Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.), another Democrat challenging the White House, said in a statement his office released this week. “If we don’t take action to reduce our deficit spending, Congress will be facing this same debt ceiling vote in the near term — still with no end to our deficits in sight.”
In sum, the Democratic Party has thrown overboard decades of tax ideology (“soak the rich”) and succumbed to the Republicans’ insistence that Keynesian spending must end and fiscal discipline must commence.
The White House has lost control of the fiscal debate and of its own party. (“The White House has condemned efforts to attach additional measures to the debt-ceiling issue. Press secretary Jay Carney has called it ‘a dangerous, risky idea to hold hostage . . . a vote on raising the debt ceiling to any other piece of legislation.’ ”) Now, the White House grudgingly accepts the prospect of spending conditions. I suppose this is, as they say, leading from behind.
A senior Senate adviser dubbed the about face “hilarious.” He told me last night, “The Dems are running from the President on the debt. And yeah, when [Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry] Reid said yesterday that he was for some convoluted deficit cap, everyone reported that — but the news was that after months of complaining about Republicans taking hostages, he finally joined the team.”
The expectation is that Republicans will negotiate to get a short-term and a long-term change attached to the debt limit, with both houses considering the same bill. Remarkable how one landslide election and the collapse of the “recovery” myth can change the entire political dialogue so quickly.