Only President Barack Obama can cause the U.S. to default on its sovereign debt, and congressional Republicans must make this fact clear to the American people before the current debt ceiling is reached.
And only by owning the definition of “default” does the minority party in control of only one house of Congress have any chance of using the debt limit debate to rein in the Democrats’ out of control spending, spur job-producing economic growth and win the political argument going into the next election.
Of course, the Republican House of Representatives can, under Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, refuse to authorize the borrowing of any additional money on the credit of United States, and thus impose the balancing of spending with tax receipts, i.e. “the budget”. In that event, the Executive Branch would have at its disposal only tax receipts to spend on all “obligations” of the federal government based upon current law including entitlements and “discretionary” spending covered by the continuing budget resolution still in effect. But tax receipts only cover approximately two-thirds of current budgetary obligations, with the discretion to prioritizing expenditures in the President’s hands, absent a new law setting such priorities that both sides would have to agree to; and of course, that won’t happen.
During the last debt ceiling debate in 2011, which produced the legislation that led to the recent so-called fiscal cliff sun-setting of tax and spending sequestration laws, President Obama threatened to default on nation’s sovereign debt to creditors and set spending priorities that put White House staff salaries ahead of those of the armed forces and the Social Security benefits of current retirees. This, despite the fact that sovereign debt accounts for only 6% of tax receipts with the remaining 94% sufficient to cover all of the national defense budget and current Social Security obligations.
Republicans can’t force our irresponsible Chief Executive to suddenly be responsible. It is likely that President Obama will never agree, under any circumstances, to cut/reform entitlement spending of any kind (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc.). In the event of an end to government borrowing, President Obama could be counted on to use the crisis as a political tool against the GOP, no matter the level of suffering by Americans dependent upon the one-third of the budget not covered by tax receipts. In fact, he could be counted on to use his discretionary spending power to direct the suffering to its maximum political effect.
I can’t remember a time when Democrats didn’t regularly impugn the moral character of Republicans as not caring whether children, the poor, the elderly and the disabled have food to eat; no matter that when the GOP has held plenary power over the budget, entitlements always continued to be funded at rates equal to or greater than those imposed by Democrats. But just as President Obama changed course after the recent fiscal cliff tax rate compromise and now claims that the rich still don’t pay their “fair share”, so the test of whether Republicans “care enough” about the truly needy is always defined by the next bill introduced by Democrats that demands more, more and more.
Whether Speaker Boehner and the House decide to play debt ceiling chicken or not, Republicans must engage in a public relations campaign over which party cares the most about those they govern, as judged by the results of their respective policies.
People will suffer hardship if a balanced budget is imposed, cold turkey. People will suffer if a compromise is reached before the debt ceiling is breached. But people will also continue to suffer if Republicans cave on the debt ceiling and achieve no spending cuts, because people are suffering now, as they have since the Great Recession was followed by the anemic recovery.
Unemployment remains very high even if one accepts the 7.8% U-3 rate as informative. Under-employment remains at double-digit depression levels. More Americans have filed for disability than have found jobs since Obama was inaugurated. And much of the suffering in job losses and reduced standards of living are directly related to Obama and the Democrats’ tripling of budget deficits over those of former President George W. Bush and the Republicans.
Sadly, Republicans have been inept at explaining just how Democrats’ policies were primarily responsible for the bursting of the housing bubble and solely responsible for our ongoing failed economy. That must change if America, and especially its young people, can ever dream of a return to the prosperity that defined us as exceptional.
Ought Republicans invite a debt limit crisis even if they do improve their public relations campaign defining the Democrats as pursuing immoral policies responsible for the crisis? Maybe, but it is harder to make the case against Democrats’ decades-long failed economic policies than is for them to make their case blaming Republicans for specific checks not mailed on the other side of a debt ceiling not raised.
Republicans simply must make the case identifying those suffering this side of the debt ceiling for the past 5 years and those that will continue to suffer even if we eliminated the debt ceiling going forward; and that Democrats’ policies that punish jobs-producing investment at good wages are responsible.
Republicans can’t right the American economy if they don’t try to use their remaining power effectively. That will require making the moral case for free market capitalism and making the moral case against Democrats, even if they decide they ought not precipitate a debt ceiling crisis with a President that doesn’t care enough about the suffering his refusal to compromise would cause. Americans chose to re-hire this venal man and will suffer the consequences no matter what Republicans do or don’t do. But as Scarlett O’Hara said in Gone With the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day”.
Republicans must start today if they want to win tomorrow so they can fix America.
G. Sand Lapper aka
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson