Nobody knows for certain, of course, what goes on behind closed doors in the budget negotiations, but all available evidence tells me that Speaker Boehner has been performing rather admirably. He’s been willing to try to work hard to find a solution, but not to capitulate on essential principle. I argued here a few days ago that there are ways to raise additional “revenue,” because of the growth effects of some types of tax cuts, without really raising the net tax burden. That seems to be exactly what Boehner was trying to achieve in tentatively agreeing to $800 billion in new revenues — the deal Obama deliberately blew up by asking for $400 billion more in actual higher taxes.
Conservatives who say that exceeding the debt limit are no big deal are as wrong as wrong can be. It would be a disaster. But Boehner is absolutely right not to cave to Obama’s threats, because it would also be a disaster to allow government to keep growing, unrestrained — which is what a debt-limit hike without savings would do, and what raising taxes would do — because raising taxes just raises the “baseline” of “available” money liberals will grab to make government even bigger and more unsustainable.
So Boehner should keep working. Any deal that achieves real honest-to-goodness savings, in actually enacted legislation rather than mere promises of future discipline, but without raising tax rates or eliminating broad-based deductions that would have the same effect as raising marginal tax rates, would amount to the first time ever that the debt limit has been used effectively to force serious cuts in spending. A deal like that is a good deal for the country, even if it doesn’t achieve the full goal of “cut, cap, and balance.” But any deal short of that is not a deal worth making. Obama may yet get the crisis he wants. If he does, conservatives should keep their cool and respond in coldly calculating, but constructive, ways to save the country from Obama’s power grab.