Capitol Hill is approaching a pure form of meta-politics where votes are not cast to create laws--the actual job of legislators--but rather to craft talking points on cable chat shows and campaign commercials in some hypothetical future. Today's exercise in purely symbolic politics: House Republicans will force Democrats to prove how many of their members really want a "clean" bill to raise the debt ceiling--meaning upping the limit without spending cuts attached--by holding a cut-free vote Tuesday. The White House has long called for a clean bill, but there's a risk that many moderate Democrats will defect on legislation, which would allow the government to borrow another $2.4 trillion. While this dilemma is debated, there is no chance that this vote will actually lead to the debt ceiling being raised or spending being cut whatever it is that politicians say they want to do when they go on cable news shows.
Just as Senate Democrats used a symbolic vote last week to show that a handful of moderate Republicans opposed Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare overhaul, House Republicans expect enough Democrats will vote nay that they'll have a stronger hand in negotiations with the White House over spending cuts.
Josh Marshall argues that Blue Dog Democrats who vote against raising the debt ceiling "cede the moral high ground that goes with the simple maxim that a great nation should pay its bills. Always. ... This is one of those cases where it's better politics to bank the coherence and consistency of voting for what you actually think is good policy than avoiding a gotcha line in a 30-second ad and surrendering your whole legislative strategy."
But at the National Review, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, writes that "deceptively named 'clean' increase in the federal debt limit... is a reckless idea that should and will fail." Given how much the debt is projected to increase over the next decade, discretionary spending must be cut before the limit is raised, he argues. And "it must be accompanied by real changes that improve the durability of the entitlement programs, stem the flow of debt, and lift the threat of a crushing recession from American workers."