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Republicans Hold Better Cards in Debt Limit Contest

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON -- This week's House vote against raising the debt limit was a long-overdue, fist-shaking declaration of public outrage at the runaway spending that endangers America's economic security.

The muscular 318 votes against the administration's request to sharply raise the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion was a rare bipartisan rebuke of President Obama. Every Republican voted against the debt hike, along with nearly half the Democrats.

Republicans want to use the debt-raising bill as a vehicle for deep spending and borrowing reductions over the next 10 years. Obama wants a "clean bill," separating it from the fierce spending battle he faces over the fiscal 2012 budget later this year. He lost on both counts.

"Tonight's vote illustrates that there is no support in the People's House for a debt limit increase without real spending cuts and binding budget process reforms," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said after the vote Tuesday night.

It was not only a big victory for the Republicans who now rule the House, especially for the newly elected tea party forces who swell their ranks, but also a jaw-dropping demonstration of the political power of the spending issue in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

The message the vote sent to the White House was simply this: Your spending binge days are over. No debt limit increases without commensurate cuts in spending. House Republicans repeated that message in a meeting with Obama on Wednesday. The meeting ended with no give on either side.

The impasse revolves around both the depth of the budget cuts Republicans are demanding and the administration's insistence that there is relatively little it wants to cut, but that higher taxes must be a major part of any deal. That's not only a nonstarter but a losing proposition for Obama and his party, politically, fiscally and, most important, economically.

You'd think the White House had learned its lesson last year when it knuckled under to GOP demands to extend all of the Bush income tax cuts in the face of an economy still struggling to climb out of the recession. The war cry among Republicans then, and even some Democrats, was, "This is no time to be raising taxes."

Incredibly, though, Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the budget negotiations, said this week that the White House insists higher taxes must be a part of any budget agreement. His timing could not have been worse.

An already anemic economy was showing disturbingly new signs of weakness, signs that have drawn silence from the West Wing and Democrats in Congress.

The stock market tumbled this week in the wake of growing job layoffs, weaker consumer spending and tepid retail sales, declining auto sales, a slowing manufacturing sector, home prices that have fallen more than in the Great Depression, and an economy that is sputtering at a mediocre growth rate of less than 2 percent.

The Institute for Supply Management's latest index, which tracks factory production, showed it was growing at the slowest rate of expansion since September 2009.

Wall Street economists were scrambling to lower their economic forecasts for the year, and University of Maryland economist Peter Morici says "the economy is in danger of slipping into a second recession."

If Obama and his advisers really think the last three years of trillion-dollar budget deficits occurred because we're not taxing Americans enough, they haven't been reading the polls. Or maybe they have but couldn't care less.

When the Gallup Poll asked Americans in April, "Which do you think is more to blame for the federal budget deficit, spending too much money on federal programs that are either not needed or wasteful, or not raising enough money in taxes," the answer came back loud and clear.

Seventy-three percent said the deficits and debt were the result of "spending too much" versus 22 percent who said it was due to "not raising enough money in taxes." Five percent had no opinion.

When Americans were asked last month if they wanted their own representative in Congress to vote in favor of increasing the debt limit or vote against it, a hefty 47 percent said vote against raising it, versus 19 percent who said vote to raise it. Thirty-four percent said they didn't know enough about the issue to say.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government has until August before the Treasury will run out of money to pay its bills, unless the debt limit is raised.

The stunning House vote laid down the GOP's marker, and the White House has few options other than to cut a budget deal on spending cuts that will be the largest spending reduction in U.S. history.

If budget negotiations work out as Republicans hope, it will give their party bragging rights heading into the 2012 elections that they have delivered on their pledge to cut spending. That'll be a novelty -- a party that keeps its promises.

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