Adding $1 trillion to this country’s debt ceiling, with another $1.5 trillion to follow in short order, would be recklessly irresponsible. Does that mean the debt ceiling shouldn’t be raised at all? I think so. I am open, though, to arguments that the Titanic can’t be turned around on a dime, that some schedule of modest monthly tweaks — upward and downward — may be justified while we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of dramatically scaling back. One would have to be convinced that the hard work is actually underway, but I could see the sense in such a plan.
In any event, every equation has two sides. In the debt/spending equation, we are obsessed with the wrong one. The blunt truth is that, while some increase in the debt ceiling may be necessary, a $2.5 trillion increase would be inexcusable. And to grant a $2.5 trillion hike for no better reason than that this is what Obama needs to avoid having his suicide spending spree re-examined before Election Day would be truly insane.
The saddest thing about Thomas Sowell’s take on all this is not his suggestion that the political fallout of the debt controversy trumps the substance of the debt problem. It is his intimation that the truth can’t win. I doubt he would have much disagreement with the numbers I’ve laid out, or what they portend. What he seems to be saying, though, is that conservatives are either so incapable of making this case, or so overmatched by the left-wing media, that being right no longer matters. He seems to be saying that this argument cannot be won, even with the facts on our side.
I respectfully disagree. Our system is premised on the conviction that the right side can always win — that the strength of its arguments can turn the political tide and force even committed ideologues like Barack Obama to yield. And I believe the system works. If it didn’t, Guantanamo Bay would now be closed, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would now be in the seventh month of his civilian trial, and the president would be toasting Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the advent of single-payer health care.
Perhaps more dismaying than Dr. Sowell’s conclusion that conservatives can’t win is Dr. Krauthammer’s contention that they should stop trying. The tiresome claim that you can’t govern from one-half of one-third of the government is half-baked, and the suggestion that there is something constitutionally untoward in the opposition of House Republicans is ridiculous.
The House Republican faction opposed to granting a gargantuan increase in the debt ceiling is not governing. Governing is what the government as a whole does after accommodating all the factions in a system of divided powers. As Mark Levin points out, when Senate Democrats blocked Bush judicial nominees, they were in control of no part of the government. The rules gave the minority rights, and they made maximum use of them. There was political risk in being portrayed as obstructionist, creating a vacancy crisis on the bench, and depriving the country of well-qualified nominees. But Senate leftists calculated that, from their standpoint, the substance of the problem — having the bench increasingly dominated by conservative jurists who would stall the advance of their statist agenda — outweighed whatever political risk there was in hanging tough. It was important enough to them, so they fought to the bitter end. For the most part, they won — the vacancies they preserved are being filled by President Obama, creating life-tenured left-wing jurists who, for decades, will frustrate conservative efforts to roll back Obama’s advances.
There are two big differences between then and now. First, the Republicans actually control the House. Second, the debt problem they confront is not just by dimensions more significant than the ideology of judicial nominees; it is precisely the matter they were elected to address.
No, Republicans can’t govern from the House — if President Obama decided to pull out of Afghanistan tomorrow, there’s not much House Republicans could do about it except cavil. But just as the Constitution makes the president supreme in foreign affairs, it makes the Congress preeminent when it comes to federal borrowing and spending — and, in fact, reposes in the House of Representatives primary control over the raising of revenue. The Framers quite consciously structured things that way so that the spending of public dollars and incurring of public debt would be most closely overseen by the political officials most directly accountable to the people — the members of the House, who have to face the voters every two years.