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Debt-Ceiling Surrender
Republicans use Senate rules to play a con game on the folks back home.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell

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Andrew C. McCarthy

‘It’s a sad day in the history of the Senate,” Mitch McConnell bitterly announced. The minority leader wanted Americans to know, or at least to believe, that Republicans were outraged by what he called the Democratic majority’s “power grab” — detonation of the so-called nuclear option, exploding the minority’s ability to block presidential nominees.

In truth, the GOP had not done much of anything to oppose Obama picks. Eric Holder, to take just one example, was confirmed by a whopping 75–21 margin — with 19 Republican yeas — despite the Mark Rich scandal, the FALN terrorist pardons, and a history of misleading Congress. The GOP similarly rolled over for one after another of the radical lefties now serving as ministers of Obama’s imperial presidency on the bench and throughout the bureaucracy.

Indeed, in positing their case to preserve the filibuster, Republicans argued that they had approved fully 99 percent of the president’s judicial nominees. How telling that they should see this as a point in their favor. The filibuster was crucial, they inveighed, because it acts as a brake against radical transformation by a slim but zealous majority. Its 60-vote supermajority hurdle enables the minority to force the majority to act responsibly, to push only nominees and policies that enjoy consensus public support. And here, the GOP said, is the clincher: 99 percent of the time, Obama could rest assured that Republicans would not use it.

Leading Republicans were not alone in bemoaning the evisceration of minority rights. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board ripped Majority Leader Harry Reid’s legion of “young liberals in a hurry” who have “grown up in the Saul Alinsky tradition.” Without the 60-vote hurdle, the editors warned, President Obama would have “a freer hand to pursue his agenda.”  

As it happens, the Reid “power grab” ends the filibuster only for presidential nominees, not other varieties of legislative action to advance Obama’s aggressive statism and fiscal recklessness. So surely Republicans, with the Journal cheering them on, will make muscular use of that 60-vote hammer where they still have it, right?

Not exactly. Witness the Journal’s hatchet job against Senator Ted Cruz for forcing a vote on the debt-ceiling hike.

Just to recap, the nation is already well over $17 trillion in debt — a lowball figure computed under voodoo Beltway accounting protocols that hide tens of trillions more in liabilities. The Republican establishment is to blame for much of this, spending like drunken sailors through the Bush years and nearly doubling — to $10.6 trillion — the debt it had taken Washington over two centuries to amass. Obama, however, has left them in the dust, adding nearly $7 trillion more in just five years, with the once unimaginable $20 trillion threshold close at hand. Meanwhile, as our Kevin D. Williamson explains, the nation is bounding towards “fiscal apocalypse,” driven by both the failure to address unsustainable entitlement obligations and the inevitable twilight of record-low interest rates, portending a cataclysmic spike in debt-service costs.

The people of Texas sent Senator Cruz to Washington to fight against this existential threat, not to talk about fighting it and then assume the Beltway fetal position. The fight is worth making. The 60-vote barrier applies to debt-ceiling legislation — meaning that even with only 45 seats, Republicans have the votes to stop new extensions of our debt-sodden nation’s tapped-out credit card.

Moreover, though they compliantly parrot the administration’s “sky is falling” claims that a failure to raise the statutory debt limit will trigger default, Republicans well know this is abject nonsense. The full faith and credit of the United States depends on paying interest on our bonds, not on underwriting a gargantuan administrative state. As Kevin notes, the government’s net interest payments currently consume only 7 percent of revenue — a $223 billion tab out of the $3 trillion-plus that Uncle Sam confiscates from us. There is thus no possibility of default in the real world.

So Senate Republicans could have refused to authorize more borrowing, more saddling of our children and grandchildren with crushing debt. They had the votes. All that was required was the will to make the fight and the competence to explain how suicidal is Obama’s circular spiel: Congress is cruel and dysfunctional if it fails to green-light spending we cannot afford; then, having approved it, Congress is powerless to do anything but borrow ever more trillions to “pay its bills” — profligacy Obama used to call “unpatriotic” when George Bush held the credit card.

Alas, refusing Obama’s credit extension would have meant fighting him and making the case for limited government. Why would anyone expect Republicans to do that? After all, as they told us during the filibuster theater, 99 percent of the time they don’t. Still, it was just last fall, when the GOP was surrendering in the fight over Obamacare funding, that the Republican establishment vowed to draw a line in the sand over unconstrained government borrowing. “The fight is on the debt limit,” proclaimed Paul Ryan.

Ted Cruz made the mistake of taking them seriously.



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