I don’t know what’s more pathetic – Republican presidential candidates who urge a GOP no-compromise stance in White House-congressional budget negotiations related to the debt limit, or media that doesn’t explore the implications.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that “Republican presidential candidates were campaigning against any outcome that smacks of compromise, underscoring divisions in the party over whether to raise the federal debt limit.”
Rather than merely recite the manifestations of each candidate’s no-compromise absolutism, reporters covering the candidates might want to ask a challenging question or two. Here are a few to ponder, based on the Times’ story:
Rep. Michelle Bachmann, D-Minn., the tea party favorite, says she won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances, telling supporters at a rally, “Don’t let them scare you by telling you that the country’s going to fall apart.”
Would she take that position as President of the United States, when she would have the power to veto legislation to raise the debt limit and, thus, let the government default? Does she not believe that a first-ever government default would roil financial markets and change the world’s view of U.S. debt, leading (at the very least) to higher interest rates that would threaten an already precarious recovery?
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, says the budget discussion represents one of those “historic, dramatic moments when you can draw a line in the sand and force politicians to actually do something bold and courageous…”
Does “bold and courageous” include tax increases, on which congressional Democrats are insisting as the cost of agreeing to significant cuts in Medicare and other programs to reduce the deficit? Is he willing to do something “bold and courageous,” like telling hard-core conservatives at the base of the Republican Party that, despite the party’s no-tax mantra, it’s time to compromise?
Does Pawlenty recognize that, as president, he would have to gather 218 votes in the House and (as a practical matter) 60 in the Senate to pass legislation, and that he won’t likely have that many Republican votes starting in 2013? Would he be willing to keep his “line in the sand” and, in the process, let the government default when, on his watch, Washington next needs to raise the debt limit?
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, says he would agree to raise the debt limit only if it was “accompanied by a major effort to restructure and reduce the size of government.”
Would he advise that Republicans let the government default if policymakers do not find a way to restructure the main drivers of future spending – Medicare, Medicaid, and, to a lesser extent, Social Security – by August 2nd?
What would GOP presidential candidates do to get their way? And what does that say about their qualifications for the nation’s highest office?
Lawrence J. Haas is former Communications Director to Vice President Gore and, before that, to the White House Office of Management and Budget. He's now a public affairs consultant who writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs, including fiscal policy.
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