Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 29 September 2021


 First President Biden sparked a self-inflicted crisis on the southern border. Then he sparked a self-inflicted crisis in Afghanistan. Now the president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill are about to spark another self-inflicted crisis by failing to raise the debt limit, putting America at risk of default. And like all the other crises they have manufactured, they are blaming everyone but themselves.
Democrats do not need Republican votes to raise the debt limit. They control the White House and both houses of Congress. And they have a legislative vehicle — a budget reconciliation bill — that they can use that requires no Republican votes. They already passed one reconciliation bill in March without including a debt-limit increase, and now they are preparing to pass another. All they need to do to avert a fiscal crisis is include a debt-limit increase in that bill and — poof! — the problem is solved. House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) admitted as much in an interview on MSNBC, declaring, “We can do it through reconciliation,” but “leadership has said they don’t want to do that.”
So, by their own admission, Democrats are choosing to create a new crisis. Why? First, because, as Yarmuth explained, if they use the reconciliation bill to raise the debt limit, “we actually have to specify a number” — and they fear Republicans will use that number against them in the 2022 midterms. And second, because Democrats can’t agree among themselves on the size and scope of the next reconciliation bill. Progressives want $3.5 trillion in spending, while moderate Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) say they won’t support anything close to that number. If Democratic leaders use the bill to raise the debt limit, and then fail to pass it because of intraparty divisions, they can’t blame Republicans for the resulting fiscal crisis. It would be yet another catastrophe born of their own incompetence.
The solution is simple: If Democrats can’t agree on their reconciliation bill, then pass a separate reconciliation bill that raises the debt limit. Then pass a clean short-term spending bill that funds the government at current levels — which Republicans will support. The result? No fiscal crisis, and no government shutdown.
Instead, Democrats are trying to force Republicans to vote for a debt-limit increase, by including it in a short-term spending bill to keep the government open. They are intentionally creating a crisis — hoping that threat of a federal default and government shutdown will force the Republicans to buckle, vote to raise the debt limit and pay for the profligate spending Democrats are enacting over GOP objections.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Democrats chose a partisan path, and now they must live with their choice. They have spent the last nine months trying to ram through as much spending as possible using a party-line process. In March, Democrats passed $1.9 trillion in social spending disguised as covid-19 relief on a party-line vote. Now, they are trying to use that same party-line process to pass $3.5 trillion more in spending, expanding the welfare state to touch virtually every American’s life from cradle to grave.
Well, if Democrats can spend trillions of dollars without Republican votes, they can raise the debt limit without Republican votes. As Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) explained, “The Democrats say they don’t need our votes to spend money they want to spend, but they do need our votes to pay for it. That dog won’t hunt.”
He’s right. The traditional way the majority party gets the minority to vote for its priorities is by offering the minority something it wants. That’s how it worked when Republicans controlled unified government. As Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute points out, “Every time this century that Republicans have had full control of the White House and Congress, Democrats have overwhelmingly voted against raising the debt limit unless it was attached to legislation that contained significant liberal priorities.” But today, Democrats not only are offering Republicans nothing; they are actually asking the GOP to bail them out while simultaneously seeking to circumvent Republicans with a second massive spending bill passed with Democratic votes alone. That’s not going to fly.
If Democrats fail to pass raise the debt ceiling and force a government shutdown, they are making a conscious political choice to manufacture yet another crisis. The question is: With Biden’s approval tanking, thanks to all the other crises Democrats have already created or mismanaged, is this really a good time to manufacture another one?

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

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