09.06.2017 0

GOP Congress poised to fail on the debt ceiling—again

By Robert Romano

The Republican Party has majorities in both chambers of Congress plus the White House, and it has must-pass pieces of legislation like the budget, debt ceiling, the Sept. 30 continuing resolution and Hurricane Harvey and Irma funding relief bills that provide opportunity after opportunity to include policy riders for major agenda specific items.

With these legislative vehicles, every fiscal year Congress can get big things done for the American people. For the GOP Congress and President Donald Trump, that includes building the southern border wall, repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, enacting across-the-board regulatory relief legislation and rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. These were the big-ticket items in 2016 that Trump and GOP ran on — and utilizing these vehicles is the only way they will ever pass.

Repeat, the only hope Republicans have to enact their agenda items is to use the legislative leverage they have on budget reconciliation bills, the debt ceiling, continuing resolution and disaster relief bills.

Particularly, the debt ceiling provides an extremely ripe avenue for Republicans to flex their muscles and get their promises etched into federal law. Namely, because the Trump administration need not threaten default. It can simply threaten to balance the budget, meanwhile refinancing the nearly $20 trillion national debt up to the limit and keeping payments up on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the military and our nation’s veterans.

So, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) could filibuster a debt ceiling bill that, say, cuts taxes and builds the southern border wall and passed the regulatory relief REINS Act bill. Lacking authority to borrow any additional monies, the result would be a massive, immediate $600 billion spending cut—with the U.S. Treasury prioritizing payments.

Non-essential federal employees would be furloughed. To which, the Trump administration and the GOP Congress need only threaten that they will not receive any back pay after the partial shutdown ends.

There is a certain ruthlessness required, of course. But then, that was exactly how former President Barack Obama managed to get the debt ceiling increased repeatedly — by threatening, not to balance the budget, but to default on our nation’s debt rather than prioritize spending.

It also would require party unity by Republicans, something they sorely lack. Particularly, when inter-conference caucuses like the Tuesday Group gum up the works, opposing efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, cut taxes and build the wall and other important agenda promises.

The point is, the American people are not fools. They know Republicans have majorities and they know what that means. They know what must-pass pieces of legislation are like the debt ceiling and how they can be used to achieve other policies. These are the bills that we know are going to be put on President Donald Trump’s desk. The only question is their content.

That is why House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must be willing to use the leverage they have to keep the promises that have been made by Republicans. For it is they and their members who will suffer at the polls in 2018, not President Trump.

This is the deciding point for the GOP majority. Are they going to use these must-pass pieces of legislation to advance the agenda they ran on, or the Democrat-led status quo left in place by the former Obama administration? The choice Republican leaders make today will be telling about whether they possess any resolve to see the agenda promised in 2016 enacted. Kicking the can will have consequences.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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