Democrats’ Pretend Debt Limit Fight

A view of the US Capitol on January 27, 2014 in Washington.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Feb. 3, 2014, 5:02 p.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crats are throw­ing rhet­or­ic­al punches at Re­pub­lic­ans over the debt ceil­ing, warn­ing them not to de­mand spend­ing cuts or oth­er con­ces­sions. But this time, there’s no GOP op­pon­ent in the ring.

With Treas­ury pre­dict­ing that the lim­it will have to be raised in com­ing days, Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray has made a mis­sion of warn­ing Re­pub­lic­ans against mount­ing a fight. The Demo­crat from Wash­ing­ton state has is­sued state­ment after state­ment, writ­ten op-eds, sent let­ters to her col­leagues, and led her party’s charge. She’s hold­ing a hear­ing Tues­day fo­cused on mov­ing from crisis to crisis.

“The more time Re­pub­lic­ans spend dream­ing up their latest debt-lim­it wish list, the closer they are push­ing work­ers and the eco­nomy to­ward an­oth­er com­pletely un­ne­ces­sary crisis,” she said in a state­ment last week.

Yet, with the very real pos­sib­il­ity of re­tak­ing the Sen­ate in Novem­ber, Re­pub­lic­ans have not com­mit­ted to mak­ing de­mands in ex­change for in­creas­ing the $17 tril­lion debt lim­it. They have floated the pos­sib­il­ity of chan­ging the Af­ford­able Care Act or green-light­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline as pos­sible con­ces­sions, but they have ar­tic­u­lated no plan to achieve those aims.

“Here’s the real­ity — and that is that we were badly burned by the shut­down of the gov­ern­ment,” Sen. John Mc­Cain said. “If it hadn’t have been for Obama­care com­ing to the fore, it would have had even more im­pact. So Re­pub­lic­ans are nervous about an­oth­er show­down.”

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama, the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Budget Com­mit­tee and a fisc­al hawk who op­posed the budget agree­ment, also doesn’t see a con­crete con­ces­sion emer­ging for Re­pub­lic­ans.

“I don’t know that there’s a firm com­mit­ment on what steps we can take to im­prove our fin­an­cial con­di­tion as part of any kind of debt ceil­ing in­crease,” Ses­sions said.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the cham­ber’s No. 3 Re­pub­lic­an, told Bloomberg re­cently that there would prob­ably be enough Re­pub­lic­ans to vote with Demo­crats on a clean debt-ceil­ing meas­ure.

So, why are Sen­ate Demo­crats — and Mur­ray in par­tic­u­lar — pick­ing this fight?

For one, Demo­crats are skep­tic­al of the ap­par­ent Re­pub­lic­an thaw over the debt lim­it.

“The last thing we need to do with a fra­gile re­cov­ery is rattle sabers about debt ceil­ings and wheth­er we’re go­ing to ex­tend the debt ceil­ing,” said Demo­crat­ic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. “We saw that that didn’t work last time.”

Demo­crats have good reas­on to be skep­tic­al. Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has called for at­tach­ing a spend­ing cut to the debt lim­it, and House Speak­er John Boehner has said a clean debt ceil­ing couldn’t pass the House. Said Mur­ray: “The Amer­ic­an people are sick and tired of Re­pub­lic­ans play­ing games with our eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery, and Demo­crats have made it clear that Re­pub­lic­ans don’t get to de­mand a ransom simply for al­low­ing Con­gress to do its job.”

Demo­crats are mind­ful of what a united GOP front in both cham­bers can achieve.

In 2011, con­ser­vat­ives won the Budget Con­trol Act, which res­ul­ted in across-the-board budget cuts known as se­quest­ra­tion, a dev­ast­at­ing blow for Demo­crats.

Since then, however, Re­pub­lic­ans have split over fund­ing for Obama­care, which led to the gov­ern­ment shut­down and debt-ceil­ing fights late last year. Sen­ate Demo­crats came to view their ap­proach — an out­right re­fus­al to ne­go­ti­ate over the debt ceil­ing — as a clear polit­ic­al and policy win­ner, a wedge to di­vide the GOP, and some Re­pub­lic­ans give that cal­cu­lus cred­ib­il­ity.

“Our con­stitu­ents ex­pect us to rein in spend­ing to the point where ob­vi­ously we don’t have to keep rais­ing the debt lim­it,” Mc­Cain said. “But there’s not the ap­pet­ite for a show­down that there was be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

Al­though Re­pub­lic­ans have hardly been breath­ing fire over the debt ceil­ing, Sen­ate Demo­crats are likely to wait un­til Boehner and GOP lead­ers un­veil their plans be­fore act­ing, ac­cord­ing to one seni­or aide.

And there are de­cisions to be made, bey­ond any talk of con­ces­sions. For ex­ample, law­makers will have to work out the length of the debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion. Demo­crats want to ex­tend the lim­it for as long as pos­sible, the aide said, sug­gest­ing one or two years. Re­pub­lic­ans are apt to want a short­er ex­ten­sion.

In­deed, Re­pub­lic­ans have not al­ways put up a vig­or­ous fight over the debt lim­it.

They ceded a three-month ex­ten­sion early last year in ex­change for the No Budget No Pay Act, which called on law­makers to for­feit their pay if a budget were not passed. It was an easy pill for Demo­crats to swal­low be­cause they in­ten­ded to pass a budget.

After the shut­down, both cham­bers hashed out a two-year budget com­prom­ise and quickly passed an om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ations bill that con­formed to the spend­ing levels in the meas­ure, prompt­ing Demo­crats to ques­tion what more Re­pub­lic­ans might want to achieve.

“Hope­fully Re­pub­lic­ans will stop wor­ry­ing about keep­ing the tea party happy and will work with us to pre­vent a de­fault the way they’ve done the last two times,” Mur­ray said, “but this time without the drama and need­less un­cer­tainty.”

What We're Following See More »
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Variety Looks at How Michelle Obama Has Leveraged Pop Culture
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen," says Michelle Obama in a new profile in Variety. "So I’m always game for a good joke, and I’m not so formal in this role. There’s very little that we can’t do that people wouldn’t appreciate.” According to writer Ted Johnson, Mrs. Obama has leveraged the power of pop culture far beyond her predecessors. "Where are the people?" she asks. "Well, they’re not reading the op-ed pieces in the major newspapers. They’re not watching Sunday morning news talk shows. They’re doing what most people are doing: They are watching TV.”

Source:
RUSSIAN HACKERS LIKELY BEHIND THE ATTACKS
New York Times, Other News Organizations Hacked
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The FBI and other US security agencies are currently investigating a series of computer breaches found within The New York Times and other news organizations. It is expected that the hacks were carried out by individuals working for Russian intelligence. It is believed that these cyber attacks are part of a "broader series of hacks that also have focused on Democratic Party organizations, the officials said."

Source:
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY STUDENTS PETITIONED
NLRB: Graduate Students Can Unionize
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a 3-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Columbia University graduate students, granting them the legal right to unionize. The petition was brought by a number of teaching assistants enrolled in graduate school. This decision could pave the way for thousands of new union members, depending on if students at other schools nationwide wish to join unions. A number of universities spoke out in opposition to this possibility, saying injecting collective bargaining into graduate school could create a host of difficulties.

Source:
DIFFERENT KIND OF CONVENTION BOUNCE
Cruz Approval Ratings Underwater
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Following Texas Senator Ted Cruz's controversial decision not to endorse Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, instead telling voters to "vote (their) conscience," a new poll out today shows that his approval ratings have sunk. The poll from Public Policy Polling shows that 39 percent of Texans approve of the job Cruz is doing, compared to 48 percent who don't approve. Additionally, despite winning the GOP primary in the state, the poll found that if the primary was held today, Trump would garner 52 percent of support to just 38 percent for Cruz.

Source:
×