Debt-limit negotiations are heading in a direction that raises questions about the prospect of a long-term deal. The bipartisan, bicameral talks led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. seem unlikely to produce a broad agreement on the GOP demand for spending cuts and entitlement reform by the self-imposed July 1 deadline. Democrats are running out the clock to push tax hikes while avoiding spending cuts and any meaningful change to the Medicare system.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted at the possibility of a short-term debt increase that would give negotiators more time. The Kentucky Republican told reporters on Tuesday that "we are still hoping for a very large package that will impress the ratings agencies, impress foreign countries and astonish the American people - that we're actually going to come together here and take advantage of this terrific opportunity that's provided by the president's request of us to raise the debt ceiling."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday that he does not see how "multiple votes on a debt-ceiling increase could get us to where we want to go, which is we want big reforms, big spending cuts, and big changes to how this town works." The Virginia Republican thinks the pressure is a good thing, saying that if "we can't make the tough decisions now, why would we be making those tough decisions later?" Mr. Cantor "put the onus" on President Obama for the lack of movement toward a final deal, saying the chief executive was neither engaged in the talks nor "willing to do the tough stuff with us."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid picked up on the split between the House and Senate GOP leaders. The Nevada Democrat on Tuesday jabbed Mr. McConnell, saying he should talk to Mr. Cantor who "said earlier today that short-term extension of the debt limit wouldn't be good for the country."
Mr. McConnell wants any short-term increase in government borrowing authority to include an equal amount of spending cuts, matching the goal set by House Speaker John A. Boehner for a long-term deal. The House and Senate GOP also agree that tax increases are off the table. The Senate Republican leader wants hard limits on discretionary spending for fiscal 2012 and 2013 and spending caps on all spending for the mid-term, 10-year window. Finally, Mr. McConnell wants real reform of the Medicare program, which is the biggest deficit driver and is set to go bankrupt in 13 years.
The debt-limit vote represents the only leverage the GOP has to push back against Washington's big-spending ways, which have left the country with $14.3 trillion in bills to pay. If Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats continue to slow-walk negotiations in order to avoid reform, Mr. McConnell's proposal ought to be adopted only if the proposed cuts in wasteful spending are deeper than what the Democrats might see in a long-term package. Otherwise, Democrats would have no incentive not to continue dragging their feet up to the last minute, hoping that the imminent threat of a reduction in America's credit rating or default will force Republicans to cave to their spending demands.
America cannot sustain a federal government that annually doles out $1.5 trillion more than it takes in. Failure to bring about real and lasting change in the process is unacceptable. Whether through a long-term package or a series of short-term deals, the federal books must be brought closer to balance. Anything else ought to be rejected.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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