As Bill Kristol writes, the House Republicans have been the only responsible players in the debt-ceiling debate, having passed actual legislation in the light of day, to increase the debt limit. Now, with all due respect, it’s time for House leaders to stay away from the White House.
Apparently too tied up in the day-to-day, uphill, and thankless process of trying to fend off statements from the Bully Pulpit, leaks from the White House, and accounts from the shamelessly pro-Obama press corps, House Republican leaders now seem to be in danger of losing sight of three important, big-picture points:
One, a “grand bargain” requires dealing with the actual drivers of our debt: health-care entitlements. (For more on this, see Yuval Levin’s piece here.)
Two, a “grand bargain” therefore requires either repealing ObamaCare — all of it, and not just the unconstitutional individual mandate (without which ObamaCare would cost taxpayers even more money, while the rest of ObamaCare, in all of its colossal intrusiveness, would remain on the books) — or reforming Medicare for future seniors (those under 55) along the lines that President Clinton’s Medicare Commission recommended, Paul Ryan has proposed, and the House has passed.
Three, Obama was willing to sacrifice a great many congressional Democrats and even control of the House to get ObamaCare on the books, and responsible Medicare reform is a large part of what he plans to run against next year (in his effort to win reelection and thereby cement his ObamaCare victory) — thus, a legitimate “grand bargain” with Obama is impossible.
Moreover, a phony “grand bargain,” one without ObamaCare repeal or structural Medicare reforms, will make Obama look — at least in the eyes of the credulous — like a bipartisan dealmaker who’s actually committed to deficit reduction, rather than like a hyper-partisan spendthrift who has racked up historic levels of debt while pushing his highly unpopular health-care overhaul through Congress on a purely partisan vote.
So, instead of trying to negotiate a “grand bargain,” what should the GOP do? Having already passed the only legislation to raise the debt limit that anyone has yet proposed (Obama has proposed nothing, and neither has the Democratic-controlled Senate), House Republicans should now pass legislation to prioritize payments, which would prevent Obama from withholding Social Security checks and other crucial outlays for political gain.
As Thomas Saving, a former Social Security public trustee, makes painfully clear in today’s Wall Street Journal, Obama’s statement that “there may simply not be the money in the coffers” to send out Social Security (and other) checks, is utterly false. But Republicans should make this plain, by passing legislation that orders Obama not to withhold Social Security checks, veterans’ checks, or any other E-ticket payments.
Republicans need not even stipulate the exact order of these payments, nor prioritize them all the way down the line. To protect Americans’ interests, and themselves from Obama’s demagoguery, they need only pass legislation specifying that if the debt ceiling is hit, Obama may not spend a cent of the roughly $175 billion that the federal government takes in each month in taxpayer dollars on anything else until all Social Security checks, troops’ and veterans’ pay, Medicare payments, and payments to creditors and vendors, have been taken care of completely.
Then Republicans should pass a debt-ceiling extension of $1 trillion, in connection with at least $1 trillion worth of spending cuts from their own budget.
If Obama wants more than $1 trillion, if he wants the $2.4 trillion that he thinks he needs to get him through next November, let him propose actual legislation to increase the debt ceiling by that amount. And if he wants to talk about it in advance, invite him over to the Capitol.