In the series of debt limit fights we’ve had since 2011, Republicans’ explanation for why they make demands in exchange for raising the limit has been that the debt is out of control, so debt limit increases must be combined with policies to control the debt.
In 2011, John Boehner laid out the “Boehner rule”: that there should be $US1 in spending cuts for every $US1 in debt limit increase. This rule was arbitrary, in that the spending cuts were measured over a 10-year budget window, but it was still a rule that tied added borrowing to fiscal austerity. And Boehner got his demands met in the Budget Control Act, which led to sequestration.
In January 2013, House Republicans agreed to another debt limit increase in exchange for a requirement that the Senate must pass a budget resolution. This was a cave by Republicans — the budget resolution didn’t have to become law or even be reconciled with a House budget — but at least it tied the debt limit issue to the federal budget.
Now, Republicans are out with a list of demands for raising the debt ceiling, many of which have little or no connection to the federal debt. According to a report from National Review, they include:
- A one-year delay of Obamacare.
- Blocking Net Neutrality regulations.
- Approving the Keystone Pipeline.
- Blocking the EPA from regulating ash waste from coal-fired power plants.
- Subjecting funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to annual Congressional appropriation.
This is just a list of things Republicans would like to do if they ran the government. But they don’t run the government. Instead, they are contending that it is a valid legislative strategy to use the leverage of the debt ceiling — which will cause an economic crisis if it is not increased — to demand their way on any unrelated issue.
The pretense that debt limit fights are about the public debt is over.
Some parliamentary systems (Australia’s, for example) have a system where one house of parliament can block funding for the operation of government even when the other chamber is controlled by a different party. But in those systems, a deadlock over funding leads to early elections, so voters can decide which side should get its way about the budget.
As Americans, we have no such luck. We’re going to be stuck in this nightmare at least until the 2014 elections, or perhaps beyond.
America’s constitutional system only works if the divided branches of government are willing to work together to make consensual agreements about running the government. Republicans are showing themselves to be too irresponsible to make the American constitutional system work.
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