No showdown yet, on the debt limit

January 28, 2013 

The budget chief of the U.S. House of Representatives, archconservative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, says he’s still going to push for deep cuts in entitlements and other worthy programs toward the goal of balancing the federal budget, but one has to wonder whether Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate has gotten a message in the drubbing his ticket took in November.

After lots of threats and lots of smoke, House Republicans last week passed a bill to lift the nation’s debt ceiling until May. They did not hold fast to dollar-for-dollar spending cuts, and there was not a great hue and cry over the action, which allows the country to borrow to pay its obligations, and thus avoid default. That would have produced a financial catastrophe for America, and Republicans, except perhaps for the tea party wing, knew it.

The debt limit has been routinely raised over many years under Republican and Democratic presidents, but hard-line Republicans have made it anything but routine for President Obama, on whom they have focused never-ending anger and resentment. But their Wall Street allies surely sent the message loud and clear that enough was enough and that the financial markets couldn’t handle much more gamesmanship with regard to the debt.

And could it be that Ryan, and perhaps some other conservatives, knew as well that if the House failed to act, the blame for a serious fallout on the markets would fall squarely on them? Certainly recent polls show the American people have pretty much had it with Congress, with some polls showing that it has a single-digit favorable opinion.

There is no question that the country has to come to grips with its debt, though the oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, has said he thinks fears about it are overblown. Nevertheless, it’s something to keep a handle on and to act upon, including implementation of some of the debt-reduction recommendations in the Simpson-Bowles report commissioned by the president. But putting the nation’s credit in jeopardy by playing politics with the debt ceiling is not constructive.

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