02.12.2014 1

House punts on debt ceiling, cedes power of the purse


By Robert Romano

Last August, before a partial government shutdown occurred in the ill-fated attempt to defund Obamacare, House Republican leaders were reportedly urging their conference to just wait for the debt ceiling, that that would be the time to achieve some concessions.

On August 13, National Review’s Robert Costa reported, “Sources tell me the House GOP will probably avoid using a shutdown as leverage and instead use the debt limit and sequester fights as areas for potential legislative trades. Negotiations over increasing the debt limit have frequently been used to wring concessions out of the administration, so there may be movement in that direction.”

At the time, Americans for Limited Government board member Bill Wilson, writing in the Washington Examiner, called it “salt lick for suckers,” warning that anyone who fell for the ruse would “be politically gunned down by those in their party who have no intention of doing anything serious.”

“Does anyone believe the powers-that-be would ever allow a debt ceiling increase to be blocked for any reason? Does anyone seriously think for one second the threat of default and the subsequent ‘downgrading’ by the ratings agencies would not swat away any demand for changes to Obamacare? Of course not.” Wilson explained, advocating that the continuing resolution be used instead.

In the end, the continuing resolution was used, and a shutdown ensued, that is, right until the debt ceiling was hit in October and Republicans increased it — and reopened the government — without achieving any concessions.

That lesson did not deter House leaders from again promising to use the debt ceiling to achieve concessions.

In December, when the Ryan-Murray budget deal funding the government through fiscal year 2015 was announced, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) appeared on Fox making the same case, that the debt ceiling would be used to get something done for the American people.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday on December 15, Ryan said, “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”

The ploy then was to drum up support for the budget deal. Support the two-year budget, and we’ll get something done on the debt ceiling later. See a pattern emerging?

Apparently, what House leaders finally determined could be accomplished on the debt ceiling was in fact nothing.

In the end, there were apparently not enough votes to use the debt ceiling to do anything about Obamacare. Or to stop IRS targeting. Or to rein in the EPA. Not even to fix military veterans pensions that got screwed up in the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Nothing.

That is when the plan became to offer a clean debt ceiling increase until March 15, 2015 with no strings attached whatsoever. It passed 221 to 201, with only 28 Republicans voting in favor, requiring the vast majority of Democrats to vote for the bill.

Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens expressed disappointment over the failure: “it is a shame that they couldn’t find common ground among themselves around a desire to stop President Obama’s IRS abuse of power.”

“The debt ceiling is the last piece of must-pass legislation during this session of Congress, and is the last opportunity for members to deal with IRS targeting before new regulations restricting 501(c)(4)s go into effect,” he added.

It was also the last opportunity to deal with Obamacare and everything else Republicans have promised to do.

House leaders could have offered a variety of amendments to the measure dealing with these issues. Win or lose, at least constituents would have known where their representatives stood on using the power of the purse to achieve certain priorities.

Instead, by punting on the debt ceiling, Republicans have punted on the remainder of this session of Congress, thus allowing Democrats attempting to hold onto the Senate in 2014 to avoid dealing with any real issues during the remainder of this election cycle.

They might as well extend their upcoming two-week recess to the end of the year. Either way, the same amount of nothing will be accomplished.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that 24 House Republicans voted in favor of the clean debt ceiling increase. It was 28.

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