Conservatives seem to be evenly divided on whether or not to support House Speaker John Boehner's budgetary plan to avoid a debt ceiling impasse. But the level of vitriol back and forth is increasing, with one side calling the other "crazy" and the other shouting back "RINOs," or Republicans in name only.
I believe both sides are acting honorably; they mostly agree on goals and disagree on tactics. But it's a bit more complicated than that. They also differ somewhat in their operating assumptions.
Those supporting the Boehner plan are convinced that if a deal is not done, our credit rating will be downgraded, financial chaos will ensue and Republicans will take the hit in 2012, greatly increasing Obama's re-election prospects. Opponents appear less convinced either that the nation will collapse upon a credit downgrade or that if it does, Republicans will take the sole political hit for it.
I wish we could muster half the concern over the national debt as we are over the debt ceiling. In a more rational world, the credit agencies would be threatening to downgrade our rating far more for our failure to address the debt than for our failure with the debt ceiling.
Opponents note that Obama, despite his fear-mongering to the contrary, has admitted that a ceiling impasse would not force the nation to default on its essential obligations. Moreover, even if we are downgraded, it might finally force us into action to address the national debt -- the real existential crisis facing the nation. Ever since the Troubled Asset Relief Program, we've been scurrying with outstretched fingers from one hole in the dike to the next, with virtually no progress on the looming debt itself. Opponents fear this continued deferral might be desensitizing us by creating the illusion that this nation is financially invincible and could continue on this course with impunity.
Opponents are also concerned that by agreeing to a bill that would include relatively minimal spending cuts upfront, do nothing in its first phase to address entitlements, still operate on baseline budgeting assumptions and delegate to a bipartisan group the task of defining specific cuts, we might actually be harming our chances for 2012 by dispiriting the conservative base and by arguably becoming co-owners of the current economic malaise, assuming Democrats would end up signing on to such a plan.