Having met with Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell yesterday, President Obama has become personally involved in negotiations over a rise in the debt ceiling. So far, the debate over the debt ceiling has been conducted in secret. No one except the negotiators really knows what’s been offered.
Republicans would like spending cuts and something on entitlements, along with a vote on a balanced-budget amendment. Democrats want some cuts, but mainly an increase in taxes, whether through reductions in tax expenditures or straight-up hikes.
I’d say most people expect that some sort of deal will be reached a few days before Aug. 2, the latest “drop dead” date for when the federal government will hit the debt ceiling. At that point, presumably, the package will be presented to Congress for debate and a vote. Who knows whether it will pass. The chance that a tax hike will clear the House of Representatives is nil. Surely the president knows that.
Looming over these negotiations, moreover, is the ghost of the TARP bailout. Then too, the (Bush) administration gave us a hastily put-together emergency measure and more or less ordered Congress to approve it with little debate. The House initially voted down TARP, of course, only to authorize it once the markets went haywire. Plenty of Republicans who voted for TARP went on to lose primary elections against anti-bailout Tea Party candidates. I’ve heard it said — and I’m inclined to agree — that there’s no way the 2012 GOP nominee will be someone who voted for TARP.
The debt ceiling debate is TARP on steroids. For one thing, the $2 trillion increase in the ceiling is more money than TARP cost. There’s also the “fool me once” factor, with plenty of Republicans not wanting to repeat what they view as the mistake of TARP. Then there’s Obama’s typically poor handling of the issue. He could be barnstorming the country and explaining why an increase in the debt ceiling is necessary and why his debt reduction plan will put us on the path to fiscal sustainability. As usual, though, he’s resorted to using scare tactics against Republicans.
Bad poll numbers, bad precedent, poor leadership, populist rebellion and the widespread sense that the government’s credit cards need to be shredded — all this leads me to believe that a debt ceiling deal is not going to happen.