Debt Limit OCD: Lawmakers Stuck in Partisan Drama
Policy + Politics

Debt Limit OCD: Lawmakers Stuck in Partisan Drama

The Fiscal Times/iStockphoto

The morning after the President and Speaker of the House delivered dueling speeches blaming each other for the deadlock over raising the nation’s debt limit, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers continued the offensive at a policy forum.

Two  Democrats and two Republicans aired their frustrations with the other party and outlined competing visions for the right fiscal path forward. 

“We’ve all got to be willing to give up something here so we can move forward at the negotiating table on the debt ceiling. Unfortunately we’ve got too many people not willing to do that,” said Sen. Jeanne  Shaheen , D-N.H., expressing exasperation at the House leadership’s rejection of last week’s ‘Gang of Six’ proposal that revamped corporate and individual tax expenditures to lower tax rates. 

Shaheen and Democratic  Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania squared off against Republican House members Kevin Brady of Texas and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina during a roundtable about job creation that quickly spiraled into a showdown on debt, not unlike the one embroiling both chambers of Congress and the White House currently. 

“Senator Casey and I voted for $38 billion in tax cuts in the continuing resolution, and there were a lot of people in my home state who felt those were not the cuts they would like to see,” Shaheen said. “But we did it because we thought it was an important down payment on moving the ball forward,”  “We need to get this done, and we’ve got to get off this subject,” Casey said, “People are disgusted and they have good reason to be disgusted.”

The Republicans on the panel fired back that the GOP was very accommodating to Democrats’ demands, and are the ones advancing the debt ceiling discussion. 

“I want to challenge this narrative that Republicans are somehow intransigent,” said Brady, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.  “We agreed with the President on extending the Bush tax cuts in return for some unemployment spending we preferred not to do.  In the continuing resolution, the cuts were far from what our goal was.  And on the debt ceiling, I really think the accurate narrative is that we are trying to find a solution and we need some partners.”

Brady and Mulvaney pointed to the “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” spending bill the House passed last week as evidence that their conference is serious about cranking out a deal before next Tuesday, when the U.S. would face technical default if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.  “Talk is really cheap in this town, and we’re still the only folks who have put it on paper in bill form and said, ‘look, this is what we represent, this is what we can support, what do you think?’said  Mulvaney,  a Tea Party-aligned freshman.   “We’ve heard some speeches but we’ve never actually seen a proposal out of the White House….And from some of our perspectives, the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill was a compromise.”

All four panel members alluded to the competing plans to raise the debt ceiling released yesterday by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.  Reid’s plan includes $2.7 trillion in cuts and no revenue increases in exchange for a $2.4 trillion debt ceiling increase that would hold through 2013, past the next presidential election.  Boehner’s plan would instate $1.2 trillion of cuts and raise the debt limit by $1 trillion.  The debt ceiling then would need to be raised again in 2012 in exchange for $1.8 trillion in cuts. 

Casey said he thought a version of Reid’s plan might be part of a final deal.  But Brady, like  Casey, a member of the Joint Economic Committee, disagreed, saying multiple phases could be a wise approach to the debt ceiling and longer-term structural issues.  “This ‘grand bargain’ approach in my view has been a distraction all along,” he said.  “We need to put in immediate cuts to restore investor confidence and begin discussion long-term restraints as well.  Whether it’s one step, two steps, or three steps is not the point.  As long as we’re headed down that path we can restore some of that business confidence."