Editorial

The House plays with the debt ceiling

January 22, 2013 

Surely John Boehner has in his Capitol Hill office access to political updates from all around the world. And certainly his Republican Party keeps an eye on polling. But just in case, here’s a summary of recent developments: Despite a barrage of negative advertising and deceptive if not outright weird claims by tea party Republicans, President Obama won re-election in November. And polls have shown a steady decline in the public’s feelings about Republicans in Congress (and for that matter, Congress in general), with the latest average on job approval being an 80 percent disapproval rate.

But the GOP charges on with the very crusades that produced those poll numbers. Consider that through President Obama’s first term, the GOP members of the House never missed a chance at confrontation, specifically on the debt ceiling.

The county has to pay its debts; to do that, it has to borrow money. Under Republican and Democratic presidents, Congress has routinely raised the debt ceiling so as to avoid default, which would be catastrophic for the county and for average citizens. While it’s unfortunate that the ceiling has to be raised, the alternative is not acceptable.

So here’s the latest strategy: GOP leaders now say they’ll go along with a three-month raising of the ceiling. That sets up another confrontation when that time has expired. So there will be one standoff after another, after another. The ceiling should be raised, for the sake of stability in the financial markets. For Republicans to continue to play this game simply guarantees that the public’s confidence in Congress will remain, rightly, where it is.

And speaking of games, the Senate has one called the 60-vote rule. Basically, if Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada Democrat) can’t rustle 60 votes on the biggest issues, nothing happens, because 60 is the magic number to close a filibuster. These days, however, just the threat of a filibuster is enough to stop anything.

Reid can maneuver to change the rule to make a simple majority work, which is how it ought to be. But Reid has hesitated, because Republicans would scream to the hilltops, and the risk would be that if the GOP regains control of the Senate, they’d use the rule change against Democrats.

The result of all this back and forth is stalemate, which explains why the Democrats in Congress, while they’ve been more progressive than Republicans, also aren’t going to be hoisted on the public’s shoulders for a parade anytime soon. If both parties in Congress continue to operate this way in their bubble, they’ll soon find themselves running against chicken pox for the bottom spot in the polls.

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