It's only May, but it already feels like August in Washington—August of 2011, that is, when Congress and the White House were locked in a seemingly endless battle over raising the federal government’s debt ceiling.
Republican leaders spent Sunday criticizing President Obama for failing to lead on debt and deficit issues, provoking Democrats months before an increase will actually be needed. The attacks suggest that Republicans clearly see the debt ceiling as a fruitful critique of President Obama, shifting the conversation to the economy and jobs as the general election swings into gear.
“The real issue here is, will the president lead?” said House Speaker John Boehner on ABC’s This Week.
“You know, people aren't clamoring to invest in Greece today,” he said. “And if we don't begin to deal with our debt and our deficit … in an honest and serious way, we're not gonna have many options.”
Boehner spent the past week saying Congress should take on the need to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling now, rather than when the deadline is weeks away. Of course, no action is expected on this issue until after the 2012 election.
“This is about jobs,” he said. “If we really are serious about getting the American people back to work, then removing the clouds of uncertainty are important.”
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wouldn't try to force a debate over the debt ceiling before the president requested it—McConnell admitted it would likely come at the end of this year or early next year—he did say that it was the “perfect” time to discuss the government’s fiscal health.
“We do need to have another serious discussion about trying to do something significant about the deficit and the debt,” McConnell told CBS’s Face the Nation. “At some point here, this president needs to become the adult…the speaker and I have been the adults talking about this serious problem.”
Democrats countered that Obama has led on this issue, and reiterated the same position they had at the end of last year: any serious deficit proposal would have to have revenue increases, meaning new taxes, in addition to spending cuts.
“It felt like Groundhogs day, and we saw what happened when the speaker played in effect debt ceiling roulette,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on Face the Nation. “We’ve gotta take on this debt issue…but it’s going to take a balanced plan that has revenues and that has entitlement reform.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republican attempts to force debt ceiling fights now were not “mature” and “responsible.”