Yesterday, at the urging of House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), 82 Democrats sided with every Republican to defeat a no-strings-attached increase in the federal debt limit.
The vote, 318-97, was as lopsided as Americans' views on our massive, and soon-to-be-crushing debt. In other words, it sounds right to me that fewer than a quarter of Americans -- with most of them being in Manhattan, Boulder, and San Francisco -- would even consider a measure to increase the nation's debt without simultaneously cutting spending.
Hoyer allowed his Democrats to vote against the measure because he understood that a vote for it would be used as campaign fodder and could cost Democrats their jobs in all but the safest districts.
The Hill reported a particular irony in the vote: "The bill put House Democrats in an awkward position after 114 members of the caucus signed a letter by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) calling on Republicans to bring a "clean" debt-limit measure to the floor. Many of those Democrats reversed themselves when it became clear that Republicans were granting their request only to see the legislation fail."
Republicans seem unafraid to play hard-ball on this issue, and it's about time we had some backbone in the GOP. Boehner, Ryan, and company are not backing down from demanding massive cuts and working hard for entitlement reform as part of agreeing to any increase in the debt ceiling.
All of this plays into my dominant theme for the 2012 elections: Voters vote for the real thing. Thus, when Republicans were spending like Democrats, voters said "Hey, if we're going to vote for spenders, we might as well vote for the people who really know how to spend, and that's the Dems." It was widely said during George W. Bush's presidency that comparing Republican spending to that of drunken sailors was an insult to drunken sailors, but we all know that the real gurus of spending other people's money are the Democrats.
Now, when it comes to an electorate who want cuts, they'll vote for Republicans if and only if the GOP can return to its fiscal conservative roots -- and if and only if the public believes they're sincere in that return. After all, if what you care about is budget cutting and entitlement reform, are you even going to consider voting for the party of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Joe Biden?
The best thing the GOP leadership can do for their party and for the nation is to stay strong during these negotiations. We don't need an outcome like the 2011 Continuing Resolution which ended up appearing to cut almost nothing (even though the reality was that it did cut real money.) A victory of substance, meaning achieving budget savings measured in the trillions, or at least hundreds of billions -- perhaps savings equal to the amount of the increase in the debt ceiling, as Boehner has suggested - would not only be a great outcome for the nation. Perhaps as important in the likelihood of its happening is that such an outcome would also finally begin to crystallize in the public's mind the view that maybe, just maybe, this is no longer the GOP of the Bush years.
House Republicans have an important chance to stake out their position today with their invitation to the White House to speak with President Obama about this issue. News reports after the meeting should shed some interesting light on whether GOP backbone remains strong. I suspect it will. The success of the nation as well as the Republican Party depends on it.
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