Opinion: Government: Obama throws the GOP a debt-ceiling rope


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With practically the first words out his mouth Friday morning, President Obama admonished House Republicans -- again -- not to bother with a debt-ceiling bill that sets the stage for another crisis early next year. Such a bill ‘does not solve the problem, and it has no chance of becoming law,’ Obama said.

He was preaching to the choir of the willfully deaf, however. Unable to secure enough GOP votes to pass a debt-ceiling bill that had no chance of winning Senate Democrats’ support, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reworked his proposal for the second time to make it more toxic to Democrats and even some Senate Republicans. The new version would reportedly require Congress to approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the debt ceiling could be raised again early next year, when the government would again reach its borrowing limit. That’s a non-starter in the Senate.


If members of the GOP’s ‘tea party’ wing weren’t so wedded to ‘cut, cap and balance,’ they’d see that Obama offered them a way out of this mess. Here’s what he said Friday:

We agree on a process where the next step is a debate in the coming months on tax reform and entitlement reform –- and I’m ready and willing to have that debate. And if we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I’ll support that too if it’s done in a smart and balanced way.

In other words, he’s offering a hostage exchange. Instead of putting the ‘full faith and credit’ of the federal government in doubt, Obama said, Republicans should come back to the table with another way to make sure Congress enacts a credible plan to close the budget gap.

Naturally, Obama and Republicans haven’t seen eye to eye on enforcement mechanisms so far. But getting an agreement on that issue seems easier than finding a compromise on such things as a balanced-budget amendment or capping federal spending at a certain percentage of gross domestic product.

And make no mistake, settling on a long-term budget plan will be harder than getting an agreement on the debt ceiling. Nobody has offered a real road map for closing the fiscal gap as rapidly as many House members seem to want, and Democrats and House Republicans are far apart on the role that tax revenues should play in reducing the deficit.

Forgive me for pointing this out over and over again, but the budget the House GOP passed with great fanfare in April would run up trillions of dollars in new debt over the coming decade, while still leaving a $440-billion deficit in 2021. And the ‘cut, cap and balance’ bill the House passed also fails to identify a single program to cut. Instead, it limits total spending to a gradually declining percentage of the economy through 2021, with no guarantee that federal revenues will come anywhere close to those levels.


The specifics of the deficit-cutting plan, however, are a problem for another day. The current drama is all about the hole that House Republicans have dug for themselves. Obama suggested a credible path up and out, and they should take it.


What does ‘compromise’ mean?

Trading the debt ceiling for another hostage

The Gang of Six provides a debt-ceiling escape hatch?

Unreasonable debt-ceiling denial


Adding a dimension to the debt-ceiling game of chicken

-- Jon Healey