A Republican Bill

by Yuval Levin
Apparently, one reason House Republican leaders have not proposed their own version of a debt-limit increase for a vote in the House—which would help advance the negotiations and clarify that Republicans are not simply opposed to raising the limit under any circumstances—is that they think some significant number of House Republicans wouldn’t vote for it, so it might not pass.
But nearly all House Republicans voted for a budget in April that would require continued federal borrowing into the 2030s, when it would balance the budget for good. It would involve far less borrowing than the president’s budget over time (stabilizing the nation’s exploding debt-to-GDP ratio within just 3 years), but not that much less in the first year so that under their budget, too, the government would need to borrow around $2 trillion through the end of next year. So why not pass legislation that says they will raise the debt limit by that amount in return for the implementation of their budget over the next few years? President Obama would like Congress to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion. The Ryan budget would reduce federal spending by $2.47 trillion through 2016 (and about $6 trillion by 2022) . What Republican could vote against a bill that implements the Ryan budget’s cuts, at least through 2016, and raises the debt ceiling? And what would be the downside of voting for such a deal, even knowing that it won’t be the final debt-limit vote?
Obviously, such a bill would not pass the Senate and would not be the shape of the ultimate debt-limit deal. Republicans don’t control Washington. But it could clarify the Republican position in detail, and show that Republicans are willing to raise the debt limit under certain conditions; the exact nature of the debt-limit increase and the conditions could then continue to be negotiated. Republicans could thus more plausibly press the president and congressional Democrats for a detailed public airing of their own proposals, and could make it more difficult for the president to claim that they are simply intransigent and uninterested in a deal.
That would seem like a very easy and pain-free way for Republicans to articulate their own view here, rather than continuing to let the president do it for them. And it could be pursued in parallel with any number of other legislative strategies (including “cut, cap, and balance” as well as the McConnell approach, whatever one thinks of it). More alternatives would only show that Republicans are open to various approaches to raising the debt-ceiling—if only the Democrats were open to meaningful cuts and didn’t think that raising taxes was more important than avoiding default.

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