President Obama wanted three things from the debt-ceiling fight: trillions in new borrowing authority, status quo on spending and no more drama before his shot at re-election. He got everything.
Republicans in control of the House could have refused to raise the debt ceiling, but their leaders were afraid. They believed failing to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a default and a disastrous reduction in America’s credit rating.
So the leaders struck a final deal that will drive the nation’s debt up to $16.7 trillion, and rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are poised to downgrade U.S. credit anyway.
GOP leaders claim they cut the best deal possible in a divided government.
“This is very important for our fiscal future, but it’s also important for the fact that our economy needs to get going,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said on Monday. “Beginning to take steps toward fixing our fiscal problems will, in fact, provide more confidence for employers in America.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday night that the deal “will ensure significant cuts in Washington spending.”
That’s an exaggeration. The bill would cut a minuscule $7 billion in 2012 and $3 billion total in 2013 - the only enforceable years. Meanwhile, the nation will continue to borrow at a rate of $100 billion a month.
The second tranche of “cuts” will be left up to a new bipartisan committee tasked with finding up to $1.5 trillion in savings. There are a bunch of gimmicks involved, but essentially we’re supposed to believe that even though Congress can’t cut a days’ worth of spending now, it’s somehow going to have the fortitude to reduce spending by far greater amounts down the road.
It’s likely to be the opposite, as Mr. Obama is already eyeing this “super committee” to fast-track tax hikes, saying on Sunday night, “I’ll continue to make a detailed case to these lawmakers about why I believe a balanced approach is necessary to finish the job.”
Worst of all for conservatives is that there will be no Balanced Budget Amendment. The deal sets a token vote in the fall and a trigger if the joint committee fails to complete its work. Without the leverage of the debt ceiling, it’s simply not going to get enough Democratic votes.
Mr. Boehner arguably put his speakership on the line last week to get a bill passed that increased the debt ceiling only until early 2012. Two days later, the president walked away with a deal that lets him get through the next election.
In November, the American people sent Tea Party conservatives to Washington to bring spending under control. These freshmen were beaten down by their leaders, who were outplayed by the president. Mr. Obama won the debt-ceiling game, and Republicans lost the season.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.