All President Obama wants for Christmas is to borrow another $1 trillion. Tax hikes are also on his wish list, but nothing is more important than solving his soon-to-be maxed credit line for the holiday season. The question is, will Republicans be in a giving mood this year?
The last time Mr. Obama hit the debt ceiling, Republicans on Capitol Hill were playing a "wait until after the election" strategy. They put off actions carrying the slightest political risk. For instance, the GOP believed temporarily shutting down the non-essential functions of government would have spooked voters and denied them the keys to the White House and U.S. Senate on Election Day. It didn't work out as expected.
Instead of ensuring victory, Republicans merely compounded their problems. Based on recent spending, Uncle Sam will hit his $16.4 trillion borrowing limit around Dec. 24, though the Treasury secretary can buy a few extra weeks with accounting gimmicks. On top of this, "Taxmaggedon" tax rate hikes take effect Jan. 1 and a sequestration will cut into defense spending. The looming disaster sets up a re-match between Mr. Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
In the summer of 2011, Mr. Boehner struck a deal granting Mr. Obama authority to borrow another $1.2 trillion in return for an equivalent amount in spending cuts. Unfortunately, House Republicans have been playing this game by Democratic rules where "cuts" are imaginary reductions in projected spending, not actual savings. Mr. Boehner effectively achieved a spending freeze -- no small accomplishment in this town.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), outlays dipped $61 billion in fiscal 2012 -- a 1.7 percent reduction -- on paper. CBO notes this was really a 0.1 percent drop because of the timing of certain payments (the first month of fiscal 2013 already reflects a $35 billion increase in spending).
Going into the next round of negotiations, Mr. Boehner appeared to open the door to a compromise with the administration that includes "more revenue" as a way to win tax and entitlement reform. The speaker clarified in his Saturday radio address that his overall goal is to promote growth, saying, "Instead of raising tax rates on the American people and accepting the damage it will do to our economy, let's start to actually solve the problem."
Mr. Boehner is right. Without entitlement reform and economic growth, there's no way our economy can break free of the $16.2 trillion -- and growing -- debt trap. It's equally true that Mr. Obama isn't likely to budge unless Mr. Boehner proves his willingness to exercise his only source of leverage: the House's ability to block any increase in the debt ceiling. The shutdown option needs to be on the table this year.
The Washington Times
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