Despite the fact that we had a deal at the eleventh hour, Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt because the outrageous politics gave them little faith that Congress and the White House would get together and stabilize the debt.
Now Boehner has decided to ratify and reinforce that decision by S&P and will undoubtedly make the other ratings agencies go back and rethink their ratings. Boehner has framed his threat in terms of fiscal discipline — demanding that an increase in the debt limit has to be accompanied by comparable cuts in spending.
Of course, increasing the debt limit is simply an acknowledgement that the government is good for debts it has already incurred. But Boehner is demanding that to make that acknowledgement will require immediate and future budget cuts. That demand is farcical. The Speaker has voted for and endorsed a Ryan budget that itself increases the debt by trillions over the coming decade.
By refusing in that budget and in every other action to put any tax increases on the table, despite the fact that Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici, the Senate “gang of six” and every other bipartisan group looking at the problem say it cannot be solved or seriously reduced in the short or medium term without sizable new revenues, Boehner is showing that his pleas for fiscal discipline are hollow.
After the Republicans won the House in the 2010 elections, Boehner showed that he was ready to lead as Speaker. He warned his colleagues about the impending need to raise the debt limit. “I’ve made it pretty clear to them that, as we get into next year, it’s pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with this. We’re going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations, and we have obligations on our part,” he said.
We no longer have an adult Speaker but a petulant one, apparently deciding that the way to lead his forces is to lead them in irresponsibility. The U.S. credit rating, credibility and economic health are going to be held hostage. That kind of negates all those good things I mentioned at the top and doesn’t suggest any reason for optimism when the big showdown hits in December.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.