Clean Debt Limit Vote Shows Debt Ceiling Not A Legitimate Hostage

Dave Johnson

With Republicans unable to agree on a hostage strategy, Speaker John Boehner will hold an open vote on a “clean” debt-ceiling increase. This means that Democrats and a few moderately sane Republicans will formalize what everyone has known all along: It is illegitimate to put conditions on the vote to increase the debt ceiling.

Obstruction And Hostage-Taking

The “clean” debt-ceiling vote will pass because a majority in the House favors this position. Before this, the Republican debt-ceiling strategy was to obstruct votes on bills that did not contain a “hostage” that furthered tea party interests, even if they would pass with a majority.

This strategy of refusing to allow a vote even when a majority favors a position has been used by Boehner and the tea party to obstruct the positions of a majority of the House on a variety of issues. This obstruction is similar to the use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans.

The Damage Done

The Republican/tea party hostage-taking has already done considerable damage to the economy. The National Memo has a report today on one study of the economic damage, “Study: Government-By-Crisis Has Cost 750,000 Jobs“:

According to the report from the Peterson Institute for International Economics — titled “Flirting With Default: Issues Raised By Debt Confrontations In The United States” — the debt ceiling standoffs of 2011 and 2013, the threat of falling over the fiscal cliff in 2012, the imposition of sequester cuts in March 2013, and the government shutdown in October 2013, had a tangible negative economic effect. … fiscal policy uncertainty caused by the governing crises “depressed the level of real GDP by about one percentage point and correspondingly raised the level of the unemployment rate by a bit more than 1/2 percentage point.”

That translates to a loss of $150 billion per year, and 750,000 jobs.

This is just one estimate of the direct price of Republican hostage-taking and their government shutdown. But the obstruction/hostage strategy has had other terrible costs beyond these direct costs. Republicans have obstructed vote after vote on efforts to get the economy moving and create jobs. They have obstructed badly needed infrastructure maintenance, modernization efforts like high-speed rail, alternative energy efforts including wind and solar, and many other efforts to help the present and future economy. Their austerity agenda has caused cutbacks in education as well as scientific and medical research that will hold back our future economy. And the obstruction has caused Americans to lose faith that government can function at all.

Democrats Received No Political Gain From Austerity

For years Democrats have gone along with the austerity agenda of budget cuts that have hurt the economy. President Obama famously “pivoted” to deficit reduction in early 2010, thinking it would bring a political return. But the austerity agenda stagnated the recovery, kept unemployment high and enabled Republicans to campaign for office with claims that Obama’s economic policies were holding back the economy.

The austerity did cut the deficit – dramatically. President Bush famously left behind a $1.4 trillion budget deficit – 10.1 percent of GDP. This year’s deficit is projected to be $514 billion – 3 percent of GDP. That is a two-thirds reduction.

But recent polling finds that the public gives President Obama and Democrats no credit for the deficit reduction the public was said to be clamoring for. Emily Swanson and Ryan Grim explain at The Huffington Post, in “New Poll Shows Political Futility Of Deficit Reduction“:

In fact, the deficit has been falling steadily since 2009. Yet a new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that Americans still think the deficit is going up and disapprove of Washington politicians accordingly.

It’s a painful irony for the jobless, whose livelihoods were sacrificed in the pursuit of deficit reduction over the past several years. Beginning in 2010, the White House shifted its focus from growing the economy to reducing the deficit, hoping to win over swing voters thought to be turned off by too much government spending. As public jobs were slashed and government spending slowed, the economy took the predicted hit. But as the survey shows, there was no political gain that came with the pain.

So what was the political gain from a deficit-reduction agenda that is still holding back the recovery, keeping millions jobless, and sacrificing future economic growth? The polling says the public just doesn’t see it or give credit for it.

According to the new poll, 54 percent of Americans think the budget deficit has increased since Obama took office in 2009, while only 19 percent know it has decreased. Fourteen percent think it has stayed the same since Obama became president.

[. . .] Only 30 percent of Democrats said the deficit had fallen – again, the correct answer. A combined 53 percent said the deficit had either stayed the same (21 percent) or risen (32 percent).

The polling makes it clear that the austerity that held back – and is holding back – the recovery was for nothing. The public was told that austerity would help the economy. A good economy was the public’s goal, not deficit-cutting. The public was told that deficit-cutting would bring them that, so they said they wanted deficit cutting. But since deficit cutting actually harmed the economy, the public still wants jobs and economic growth.

The lesson to learn is that politicians should just do the right thing. The tea party is not going to learn that lesson.

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