Debt Ceiling: Political Games

Back in January I noted that some analysts believe that the statutory debt ceiling should be eliminated. They view the potential for political brinksmanship as creating an unnecessary risk that financial markets will get rattled if there’s a chance the government won’t make good on its debt obligations in a timely manner. I argued that “forcing policymakers to spar publicly over fiscal policy is healthy, especially at a time when analysts generally agree that the country is headed toward an economic catastrophe if Washington’s mounting debt isn’t brought under control.”

I maintain that view four months later, but an article in Politico illustrates the absurd political shenanigans that accompany debt ceiling deliberations.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is building bipartisan support for a plan that would cap federal spending at a declining percentage of GDP over ten years. Spending as a percentage of GDP would eventually be reduced to 20.6 percent, which is equal to the average from 1970 to 2008. No tax increases.

Corker has been touring his state pitching the plan as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have endorsed it, as has Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who caucuses with the Democrats. Good news, right? Not according to Republican apparatchiks.

From the article:

“Corker’s heart may be in the right place on this legislatively, but it would help if he was more focused on winning back a Senate Republican majority, than hurting the feelings of vulnerable Democrats who recognize the political cover this affords them,” said one senior GOP aide. “McCaskill, Manchin and others can vote for it, and campaign on it, knowing full well that Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer have enough votes to kill it.”

On Tuesday, Corker got into a squabble with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which ridiculed Manchin for backing the plan by saying it had “zero chance” of passing because it was opposed by Reid. An angry Corker believed the NRSC was squashing the plan’s growing momentum, and had a series of phone calls with NRSC officials expressing his frustration. A spokesman for the NRSC later said that the political committee shouldn’t have “underestimated Sen. Corker’s legislative skills and certainly hope he is successful in this effort.”

Sad as it is, that’s the way it works in Washington, folks. Hey, nevermind that Corker is at the very least planting on Democratic soil the idea that a debt ceiling deal should be focused on reducing spending and not tax hikes. Nope, what’s really important is making sure that Democrats do the wrong thing in order to bolster Mitch McConnell’s Senate Majority Leader prospects. After all, spending and debt didn’t go through the roof when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and White House, right?

Pardon my sarcasm and obvious contempt, but this is the sort of nonsense that I repeatedly experienced during my days as a Senate staffer. Americans tend to get all hot and bothered over this or that politician, but much of what “gets done” in Washington is actually carried out by party operatives, sycophantic staffers, and lobbyists. All of this leads to a refrain I increasingly end media appearances with: Why do we give these people so much control over our lives?