Now that it looks as if we’re going to survive our latest brush with the debt ceiling, I’d like to suggest Republicans open the next round of negotiations by making President Obama eat one of his more absurd talking points. The President likes to say that we have to raise the debt ceiling, without debate, automatically, because we need to pay bills Congress has already racked up. He compares failure to raise the debt ceiling with a deadbeat diner skipping out on his bill.
First of all, Obama obviously didn’t feel this way when he opposed raising the debt ceiling, back in his senatorial days. Republicans should never stop nailing him with that quote; it’s yet another failure of our biased media that they don’t bring it up incessantly, as they surely would if he were a Republican. Obama could conceivably say something like, “Well, I was only a junior senator back then, I didn’t understand how things work, but now that I’m the President I’ve learned my lesson.” But his ego would never let him make such an admission of error. Every single fiscal crisis should begin with Barack Obama sizzling on the hot griddle of his previous rhetoric.
With the opening act out of the way, let Republicans offer him a proposal: Fine, we don’t want to be deadbeat diners, so we’ll raise the debt ceiling to cover whatever bills the current Congress has incurred – $17.5 trillion, $18 trillion, whatever it takes to remove this dopey talking point from the board – and then never raise it again. We’ll lock it down, skip the next scheduled debt-ceiling crash, allow plenty of time for reasonable fiscal discipline instead of hasty sequestration-style fixes… but we won’t run up any more bills, so the President (whether Obama or his successor) cannot call us deadbeats for refusing to allow more debt.
Obama would have no serious response to this, without abandoning the Deadbeat Diner Fallacy. He really doesn’t want to be honest about how that debt is accumulated, or talk about the bureaucratic inertia that drives much of our discretionary bloat… to say nothing of the entitlement clock ticking down to doomsday.
It would be both gratifying and strategically useful to state, in dramatic terms, that if we’re not allowed to debate the accumulation of debt when we hit the debt ceiling – a complete inversion of the original concept – then fine, we’ll talk about it every other week of every other month of the year. A politician who likes to hear himself talk gives savvy opponents a lot of material to work with.