On CNBC last night, I participated in a discussion about America's debt and debt ceiling problems -- which are inextricably linked, despite the Left's bizarre insistence that they're two separate and distinct issues. I made the overtly partisan statement that Republicans are the only political actors in Washington who are even remotely serious about dealing with the debt crisis -- and the Democrat on the panel seemed determined to prove me right. Most of the fireworks came toward the end of the exchange, when Democratic strategist Mark Hannah decided to go the full hack. He began by attacking House Republicans as "extreme" and "reckless" for even suggesting that a debt ceiling increase should be paired with spending cuts. Then, when Reason's Peter Suderman brought up the inconvenient posture Sen. Barack Obama adopted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006, Hannah jumped in to argue that Obama was justified in taking that stand to push back against the spending that "exploded" under President Bush. (In case you're keeping score, opposing a debt limit increase in the face of "exploding" spending and a national debt of $8.6 trillion is totally kosher. Doing so after that debt has nearly doubled is "reckless"). Finally, when confronted with the unprecedented budget deficits under President Obama, Hannah dug deep and served up an airtight defense:
"The deficit we face right now isn't a product of spending."
Suderman practically had an on-air stroke in response to that assertion. All I could do was laugh. This is what they believe, folks. We have $87 trillion in outstanding debt and unpaid-for promises on the books. Our government has spent at least $1 trillion more than the taxes they've collected for four years running. By the end of the decade, the interest we owe on our debt will amount to $1 trillion. Obama's spending as a percentage of GDP has been higher than any ratio in US history, with the exception of World War II. But that's all unrelated to government spending, apparently. The true culprits are Bush, and wars, and tax cuts, and "revenues," and the recession, and healthcare (as if healthcare entitlements somehow aren't government spending), etc. In fairness to Mr. Hannah, he wasn't exactly freelancing with his laughable answer. It's the official party line, handed down from the very top. Avert your eyes from these graphs:
Incidentally, I outlined my game plan for GOP maneuvering during the segment (in brief, pass a clean debt ceiling increase, force the sequester cuts to go into effect, then go to the mat on the 'CR' fight). I've since heard from a Republican leadership aide on the Hill that this approach is gaining momentum among some key players, but reports like this make me wonder if there's any unified strategy at all. For his part, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell penned an op/ed for National Review today renewing his party's insistence that any debt ceiling increase be coupled with meaningful spending restraint:
With the government’s credit card maxed out once again, President Obama took to the microphones on Monday to insist that the last thing we should do as part of a debt-limit agreement is to . . . cut spending. What the president refuses to acknowledge is that the only reason we’ve reached our spending limit in the first place is because Washington has a spending problem, and that’s why any sensible debt-limit increase must involve cuts to Washington spending. This doesn’t just make perfect sense; it’s also exactly how past presidents and Congresses have viewed previous debt-limit debates — as a perfect opportunity to reform the habits that are causing the debt.
Meanwhile, the president has made his position very clear: He won't negotiate, and any resulting disruption will be Republicans' fault. Parting quotation, from said president: "I don’t think anybody would consider my position unreasonable here." The public seems to agree. Hooray.