Topics: House of Representatives

American public sees no sacred cows in debt limit hike

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Congress,David Freddoso,Columnists,Barack Obama,House of Representatives,Republican Party,Bill Clinton,Debt Ceiling,Analysis,Budgets and Deficits

Last week's theatrics over “defunding Obamacare” were just the beginning of our nation's latest bout of crisis governance.

For now, Washington is consumed with the possibility of a government shutdown - a public relations battle which, despite what some conservatives are trying to convince themselves, Republicans are likely to lose.

But the other hard deadline coming up – the question of raising the limit on the federal government's borrowing so that it can keep up with its obligations – is quite different.

House Republicans want something in return for raising the debt ceiling. President Obama says he will not negotiate. His senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, said in a CNN interview last week that for merely demanding negotiations, Republicans were strapping “a bomb to their chest,” like some al Qaeda terrorist.

The polls are unambiguous here, and not at all favorable to Obama's position. The public opposes raising the debt ceiling without conditions even more strongly than it opposes a government shutdown.

A Bloomberg poll from last week shows 61 percent want spending cuts in exchange for any increase to the nation's credit limit.

The recent New York Times poll showed that 55 percent wanted spending cuts in exchange for a credit limit increase, and another 24 percent don't want any increase.

Only 17 percent supported Obama's position that the increase must be granted unconditionally.

For Congress, the act of raising the debt limit carries an enormous political risk unless substantial concessions are received in return.

Some financial and political journalists have cast the debt ceiling as a sacred cow that cannot even be debated or discussed, only increased without question every time it arises.

This position couldn't be further out of touch or further from historical fact. Conditions have been repeatedly attached to debt limit deals.

Reagan made such deals twice. Democratic Congresses twice brought George H.W. Bush to the table on debt limit increases, forcing many concessions completely unrelated to the budget.

Republicans in Congress exacted concessions from President Clinton, one of which was the Congressional Review Act. And the last debt limit showdown between Obama and Speaker John Boehner led to the current budget caps and sequestration.

Some argue that the public's view is incoherent – Congress has already incurred bills, and it must now pay them. But the average voter views the government like a spendthrift college student who spent twice what his parents gave him during his freshman year.

Yes, Dad will pay the bills if he must – but not until there's some kind of understanding about future expenditures.

The White House argues that it is willing to reform spending, just not in the context of the debt ceiling. As Pfeiffer put it, right after his suicide bomber comments, “take the full faith and credit of the United States off the table, and let's have the discussion.”

That's great, except that it hasn't been true of this or any modern White House. The modest cuts of sequestration, a result of the 2011 debt ceiling showdown, have caused government spending to fall two years in a row for the first time since the Korean War.

The voting public and congressional Republicans are on the same page in seeing this debate as perhaps their only chance to put their foot down.

Perhaps Republicans' current laundry list of demands for a debt increase is unreasonable. But that's where negotiations often begin.

And if Obama can negotiate with Bashar Assad, who just used sarin gas on his own citizens less than two months ago, it's hard to see why he can't sit down with House Republicans and work out a reasonable deal, given that a stunning 79 percent of the American public oppose a debt limit increase without one.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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