In the past, as federal debt grew the debt ceiling grew with it. Congressional votes to increase the debt limit were routine and always passed, with some members of the “out” party–like Barack Obama–voting against increasing the limit as a form of political theater. Not many months ago, the Democrats were confident that the same thing would happen this year.
Tim Geithner et al. have gone on television to warn of the dire consequences of failing to raise the limit, but the times are different now. This year, it hasn’t worked. Many millions of voters, led by the movement loosely called the “tea party,” understand that the United States faces an existential debt crisis. So when the House Republican majority put a “clean” increase in the debt limit up for a vote–that is, a stand-alone increase with no spending cuts–it was voted down resoundingly, 318-97. Every Republican voted against the debt limit increase, and they were joined by nearly half the Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and new DNC chief Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who promises to be the Joe Biden of the House of Representatives.
So the GOP is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of American voters, at least for now. I take it this vote means that when the debt limit finally is increased, it will be part of a package that includes meaningful–I stress “meaningful”–spending cuts, and perhaps structural reforms.
We are now engaged in a war for the nation’s fiscal survival, and for our children’s futures. The ultimate vote on an increase in the debt ceiling will be just one battle in that long war. For the moment, however, momentum appears to be on the right side.
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