It’s good that it’s dawning on the Republican leadership that no one is buying “out year” cuts — we know the only cuts that matter are the ones this Congress makes: it can’t bind future Congresses and nothing it promises on spending cuts in future years means anything.
But the paltriness of the spending cuts is only one-half of the equation that makes the GOP plan so offensive. The other half, of course, is that the spending credit given to President Obama is not only astronomical ($1 trillion and, very soon, another $1.5 trillion) but he gets it all up front — he is not expected to take it in small bits the way we are supposed to get spending cuts.
The reason this makes us recoil is that the spending cuts have been pitched to us as the rationale for agreeing to the debt ceiling increase. I have never bought this reasoning: If the problem is out of control spending, it is absurd to propose extending the spendthrift’s credit card at all; rationalizing an unwarranted credit extension by dollar-for-dollar spending cuts is self-delusion. Since we were only recently running the government on a debt ceiling that was a lot lower than $14.3 trillion, I don’t see why the best course isn’t to tell the President he’s got to figure out how to make it work within that ceiling — something we now know he’s been planning to do, despite all the fear-mongering about default.
But hey, I’m all about compromise. If we have to accept spending cuts in dribs and drabs, why can’t Obama get his debt ceiling increase in dribs and drabs. Giving it to Obama in trillion-dollar tranches helps him since it minimizes the chance that he’ll have to go through this debate again — with America gawking at what he’s spent — before the election. But it doesn’t help us.
Why can’t we propose to increase the debt ceiling as real spending cuts happen? I understand that doing this on a dollar-for-dollar basis may be impractical. But even if we proposed to give him two or three dollars of raised debt ceiling for every dollar of real cuts as the real cuts actually occur, that would be a lot better than the proposals on the table. We’d be able to show we were not unwilling to raise the debt ceiling, but we’d be ensuring that it was raised no more than is necessary to give the government breathing room on pending obligations. It would also keep the focus on spending, and it would force Obama (who claims to be for deficit reduction but hasn’t produced any actual plan) to tell us what he would cut — if he wants the ceiling raises, he’s got to come across with the cuts.
This would be a real compromise. We don’t want to raise the ceiling at all. The principle of matching the ceiling rise to spending cuts has already been generally accepted. What I’m talking about would just insure that there is reality on both sides of the equation: real raises only upon real cuts.