I’m inclined to agree with Bill Kristol that Romney’s attacks on Santorum are lame, but mainly because it is Romney who is making them. I cannot imagine Mitt voting against any of the things he (or the Romney super PAC) now chastises Rick for voting yea on — which is why trying to zing Santorum over them results in such embarrassments as Romney-backer Jim Talent blasting Santorum for voting in favor of the Bush prescription drug entitlement . . . just like Talent did. For much of the time Rick was in Congress, Mitt was in his progressive incarnation, and a big part of Romneycare involved figuring out how the make Uncle Sam pick up the tab for Massachusetts’s medical costs — the sort of thing that drives up federal spending, which, in turn, creates pressure to raise the debt ceiling.
I deeply disagree with Brian’s “double-dipping” argument, though. As he put it, “Yes, you can fault Santorum for voting in favor of big-spending programs such as No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D. But it’s hard to blame him for voting for legislation that honored the obligations the government had already incurred.”
I don’t think it’s hard to blame him at all.
To be sure, the debt limit ought to encourage politicians not to over-spend in the first place. Nevertheless, voting for profligate, under-funded entitlement programs, or any other huge federal expenditure, is not an implicit agreement that the debt-ceiling has to be raised. It ought to be understood as saying, “Despite the credit limits we’ve established, I now believe X expensive federal program is a priority; if X pushes us to our credit limit, that means we need to cut or eliminate programs that are not as pressing a priority so that we stay within our credit limit.” If a politician cannot come up with the cuts, that is a reason to vote against X unaffordable program, not to raise the debt limit.
The double-dipping rationale is how we got to our present untenable straits. It is also classic Washington. We see it, for example, in the foreign policy realm, too: Presidents make absurd commitments (“X dictator must go . . . even though he was our valuable ally ten minutes ago,” or “We’ll gladly spend a trillion dollars and thousands of lives to turn your basket-case country into a sharia-democracy that continues to work with America’s enemies against America’s interests”); all manner of right-of-center pols and analysts then rally to back the president, reasoning that “America’s credibility is now at stake” so we must honor the commitment no matter how foolish (or even unconstitutional) it may have been.
Mistakes are always going to be made. If our logic of governance is that making Mistake No. 1 dictates that I must make Mistake No. 2, and so on down the line, then we can never fix our monumental problems. What ever happened to the notion that, if you find yourself in a hole, step one should be: stop digging?
I’m a Rick fan. Whatever he may have been thinking at the time — which, as Brian points out, was many trillions of debt-ceiling dollars ago — I hope he would now say that hitting the debt limit is an occasion for revisiting and repealing irresponsible spending, not for green-lighting more irresponsible spending.