We all wish Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) the best of success in his talks with the Senate and the White House and hope that he is able to negotiate a deal for major spending cuts in return for a debt-limit increase. The concept of a one-for-one ratio between debt-limit increase and spending cuts is particularly attractive, provided that the spending cuts are not overly back-ended.
But we must be alive to the possibility that the talks will not prove fruitful or that the Speaker will have to come back to the House with only half a loaf.
In that event, House Republicans need to fortify their position — in advance — so that they are able to battle against the White House even at the price of a government shutdown. To prepare this position, Republicans should pass legislation assuring that government funds continue to flow in two critical areas despite the failure to raise the debt limit:
1. The House should pass a conditional increase in the debt limit of $200 billion, to be used only in the event that the secretary of the Treasury certifies:
a. That all of the borrowed funds would be used to repay creditors and lenders
b. That there is no other source of funds to meet these needs and avoid default on our obligations.
2. The House should prioritize the expenditure of tax revenues in the event the debt limit is not raised so that:
a. Military personnel will continue to be paid
b. Social Security checks will continue to be sent out.
By taking a default, military pay and Social Security off the table, the Republicans will put themselves in a position to sustain and win a battle over the debt limit.
Obviously, the Senate will refuse to pass this legislation. But its passage by the House will make it clear that the Republicans do not want their actions to cause default or any interruption in military pay and Social ?Security payments.
The Republican members of the House should sign a memorandum indicating their support for this prophylactic legislation to fortify our position in the event of an inadequate outcome to the budget/debt-limit negotiations.
Unless the House Republicans pass this one-house bill, they will never be able to prevail in the propaganda war with the Democrats, which would follow the collapse of budget negotiations. And, unless they prepare their ground in advance by passing such a bill, the fiscal conservatives will have no alternative but to accept whatever the leadership negotiates. Just as they wouldn’t challenge the Speaker’s continuing resolution deal because of their fear that soldiers would not be paid, so now, fear of default will weaken their courage.
House freshman Republicans must realize that if they back down and accept a bad deal on the debt limit, they will never recover their credibility with their constituents. The Tea Party types will not be happy with half a loaf, and freshmen run a serious risk of primary fights if they try to sell a watered-down compromise.
On the other hand, passage of this one-house bill would strengthen Speaker Boehner’s hand in budget talks with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It will a signal to the administration that the House will not be stampeded by fear of default and that only serious cuts in spending will be acceptable in return for a debt-limit increase.
The American people do not want the debt limit increased. They understand the futility of borrowing more and more and continuing big-spending ways. If the administration chooses to battle over this turf, there can be no better fight than this one. The people are with us.