Let’s be clear: the McConnell debt limit proposal is not a “contingency plan”–it is a complete and total sellout. It gives President Obama exactly what he asked for at the start of the negotiations: a “clean” debt limit increase. The McConnell plan is driven by pure politics. It would allow Obama to drive up the debt, and thus drive our economy off a cliff–but with no GOP finger prints. Giving the president a blank check to raise the debt limit with nothing in return is capitulation, plain and simple.
Here is a real contingency plan: If President Obama and congressional Democrats won’t agree on deep spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit increase by August 2, House Republicans should simply pass a small, temporary debt-ceiling increase–and attach some of the spending cuts Democrats have already agreed to in the course of the debt-limit negotiations. If that stop-gap increase runs out without an agreement, they can do it again … and again … and again. The government does not default. Social Security recipients get their checks. And we begin implementing spending cuts.
In his press conference Monday, President Obama ruled this option out, declaring:
I’m happy to consider all options, all alternatives that they’re looking at. The things that I will not consider are a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day or a 180-day temporary stopgap resolution to this problem. This is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments. We don’t risk U.S. default on our obligations because we can’t put politics aside … I will not sign a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day extension.
Yes he will.
The president is bluffing and Republicans should call him on it. Here is why: On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner declared on Face the Nation, “Congress has to act. If they don’t act then we face catastrophic damage to the American economy,” adding that “on August 2 we’re left running on fumes. We’d have no capacity to borrow.” Failure to reach an agreement before August 2, he warned, “is not an option.”
So let’s say the two sides do fail to reach an agreement, and House Republicans pass a small debt limit increase tied to spending cuts that buys another 30, 60, or 90 days to continue negotiations. Obama is going to veto that? He’s going let the government default? Of course not. He can’t. If the consequences of not reaching a deal by August 2 are as bad as he and Geithner say they are, then Obama cannot veto a stop-gap bill. He has to either sign it or allow “catastrophic damage to the American economy.”
If he does veto the bill, then his warnings that the sky would fall if no deal is reached on August 2 would be exposed as lies. Perhaps Obama thinks he can play hardball with Republicans by announcing that, in order to avoid default, the government will not be sending out Social Security checks to 55 million American seniors thanks to the GOP. That’s politically risky for the president. If Republicans pass short-term legislation to keep those checks coming, and Obama vetoes it, who are seniors going blame when their checks don’t arrive? The Republicans who passed legislation to keep the money flowing–or the president who vetoed that legislation?
The president is trying to scare Republicans–and his scare tactics seem to be working. GOP leaders don’t seem to realize that they have the stronger hand in this standoff. Obama cannot follow through on his threats to veto a stop-gap bill. If he does, it would be disastrous for our economy–and for his presidency. The president is bluffing. Call his bluff.