Why didn’t the Democrats include the debt ceiling in the tax deal?

at 02:03 PM ET, 04/12/2011


(By Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Jon Chait and Matt Yglesias and a variety of Democratic congressmen want the Obama administration to demand a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling. This should not be a hostage situation, they argue, because no one is really willing to shoot the hostage, including the Republicans. Kevin Drum points out that raising the debt limit is really, really unpopular, so it’s going to be a bit hard for Democrats to position themselves as ‘Team Let’s-Raise-the-Debt-Ceiling!’ And it’s probably all moot, because the Obama administration has already signaled their interest in making this a hostage negotiation situation.

I’m not a negotiation specialist, so I don’t really know who’s right here. But what’s always seemed obvious was that the time to raise the debt ceiling was back in December, when Democrats and Republicans jointly agreed to increase the deficit by $850 billion in order to extend the Bush tax cuts and add some further cuts on top of that. When I asked Democrats about this at the time, they kept telling me that Republicans needed to learn the awful and awesome responsibility that was governing. “Let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt. They’re going to have a majority in the House,” said Harry Reid. “I don’t think it should be when we have a heavily Democratic Senate, heavily Democratic House and a Democratic president.”

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This made absolutely zero sense to me then, and it makes zero sense to me now. The tax deal happened after an election, so people had the breathing room to be a bit more responsible, and it was a moment in which Republicans desperately wanted to do something that was going to vastly increase the deficit. Instead, Republicans got the deficit-busting tax cuts they wanted, and they didn’t have to offset them or okay more borrowing to get them or even admit that tax cuts increase deficits, and they have a bunch of new members who think raising the debt ceiling would tick off Thomas Jefferson, and the Obama administration is probably going to have to agree to cut health care for poor people and replace the word “carbon” with the word “air-cleaner” just to get a vote on this. All of which was 100 percent predictable a few months ago, but instead, Reid wanted “buy-in” from the GOP, so now he’s going to get it good and hard.

 
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