Sen. Jim DeMint has declared that even with a balanced budget amendment, he will not vote to raise the debt limit because he did not help create the debt problem. DeMint also encourages freshmen Republican members of Congress not to support raising the debt celing for the same reason.
From an analytic standpoint, I don’t think DeMint’s position makes much sense. Legislators should support the best practically available response to a problem whether they helped create it or not (for example, freshman legislators should not refuse to vote for funding the war in Afghanistan merely because they didn’t vote to “create” the war and might not have done so). And a package that raises the debt ceiling in exchange for robust spending cuts and budget balancing is the best available response to the fix we’re in, a reality that DeMint does not deny. After all, as Peter Wehner points out, “a federal default. . .would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt.”
From a practical standpoint, however, I think I understand where DeMint is coming from. The deal he says he would oppose is one that might not require his support, and the support of Republican freshmen, to pass. In this scenario, as the rightscoop suggests, DeMint believes he and others like him should not have to go on record as supporting the raising of the debt ceiling.
Even so, I think Republican freshmen should think very carefully before adopting a “hell no” position on raising the debt ceiling. On an issue as consequence-laden as this one, their constituents, as a group, may well expect them to put the obligation to vote for the best practically available solution ahead of the desire to make gestures that signal their ideological purity.
UPDATE: As I noted yesterday, Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a Senator. Today, his press secretary explained that Obama only did so because he knew the ceiling would be raised without his vote. Obama used his vote “to make a point about needing to get serious about fiscal discipline,” Robert Gibbs explained. “His vote was not necessarily needed on that.”
In other words, Obama’s vote was an exercise in grandstanding, not serious deliberation about what policy would best serve the country.
It’s understandable that Sen. DeMint is tempted to take the same course, but it would be better if he and others resist.
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