The Corner

NPR’s Mara Liasson Says So Far, House GOP Is Winning

I’m still trying to figure out what I think about the debt-limit fight.

As a policy matter, I want to cut the federal government’s claim on the people’s economic resources by much more than 40 percent. (Dear critics, please note that it’s no kind of objection to say that cuts of that magnitude would cause vulnerable people pain. The alternatives — higher taxes or a Greek-style debt crisis — would also cause vulnerable people pain. In my estimation, they would cause more pain to greater numbers of vulnerable people.)

Where I get queasy is when people make credible arguments that not raising the debt limit would result in such a political backlash that it would compromise efforts to cut federal spending.

Which is why I found this exchange yesterday between NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly and Mara Liasson so fascinating:

KELLY: [C]an you even say at this point, who seems to be winning this fight after all these weeks?

LIASSON: Well, on substance you’d have to say the Republicans. Each time that they’ve laid down the demand, they’ve prevailed. First, when the president wanted a clean debt ceiling bill, they said no. They said it had to be linked to spending cuts, they won on that. Then they wanted dollar for dollar cuts for the amount they were raising the debt ceiling by. They got that. Now, in this latest iteration, they’re demand that the bills contain no revenues, that seems to be prevailing, neither the Reid Plan or The Boehner Plan has any revenues. But, Republicans have paid a big price for this in the polls. Their numbers are much worse than the president on these issues. The president, on the other hand, seems to be winning the argument, but maybe not the debate. The polls show that the American people prefer his approach, his balanced approach that include tax hikes on the wealthy, but that doesn’t seem to be giving him any leverage with Republicans in Washington.

KELLY: Yeah, I mean, as you say, the President Obama said last night, Americans are fed up. Are our voters going to hold one side more responsible than other, do you think? And weve only got a few more seconds left.

LIASSON: Well, polls show that more people would blame the Republicans if there’s s a default, but I think that may be misleading. Republicans might get the blame, but it I think the president will be punished because he needed the deal the most. If there’s a downgrade of U.S. government credit rating, which seems likelier than ever now, the damage to the economy will be damage, politically, to him.

Nobody knows for sure whom the public will blame if people suffer, just as nobody knows when the House Republicans will run out of leverage.

It seems, though, that the House GOP has been tremendously successful at changing at least the terms of this debate over the federal budget.

That’s something I haven’t seen acknowledged by those — of all political stripes — who say that the House Republicans are nuts. I’m interested to hear what others think about Liasson’s perspective.

Michael F. Cannon — Mr. Cannon is director of health-policy studies at the Cato Institute and co-author of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.

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