Moody’s Investors Service added urgency to the congressional debate over the debt limit by threatening to downgrade the nation’s credit rating unless a deal is struck in the coming weeks making a “substantive change in the debt trajectory.” That was Thursday. On Monday, more than 100 of the most conservative Republicans in the House insisted such an agreement would have to be big.
Republican Study Committee (RSC) members made their thoughts known in a letter sent to House Speaker John A. Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “The bond markets won’t buy a deal unless it has teeth, and neither will I,” RSC Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, told The Washington Times. “We need real changes that will balance the budget.” Mr. Jordan and the 102 co-signers want to slash the deficit in half for 2012 by reducing government spending by $380 billion; by capping discretionary and mandatory federal spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product (excluding interest on the debt); and by passing a Balanced Budget Amendment through the House and a Democratic-controlled Senate. The RSC does not specifically mention entitlement reform, but it’s implicit in the mechanisms used to hold the line on outlays.
Conservatives have been nervous about what might emerge from the closed-door debt-ceiling talks between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and congressional leaders from both parties. In April, the last-minute agreement between the House and the administration on “cuts” in the continuing resolution failed to actually reduce spending, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
The speaker blamed President Obama’s non-involvement in the process for the glacial pace of the Biden group talks. When asked by The Washington Times’ Emily Miller what he wanted to see from the president, Mr. Boehner said, “He’s had this hands-off approach for the last several months while this conversation has raged on. I just think it’s time for him to take a more active role. If you want this agreement done by the end of the month, you’d better get going.”
It’s assumed that the debt-limit negotiators are looking to punt the issue until after the 2012 election. To do so, the increase would have to be about $2 trillion. Mr. Boehner has insisted the House will only vote for an increase in debt if spending is cut by the same amount or more. He won’t accept tax hikes.
Mr. Cantor moved to shore up House GOP support Monday by offering an update on negotiations. “I am cautiously optimistic we can find sufficient common ground with the administration to enact spending cuts that meet the goal outlined by the speaker,” Mr. Cantor wrote. He explained that the Biden group has been going through all federal spending programs, including mandatory entitlements. On Friday, Mr. Cantor said there was “a lot of movement towards coalescing around trillions of dollars in cuts.”
Action on the debt ceiling represents the last chance conservatives have to force the Democrats to accept fiscal responsibility. It doesn’t hurt to send a reminder of just how high the stakes are.