Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fiscal brinksmanship likely to dominate the next Republican debate

The GOP candidates are already lining up to see who can push hardest for a government shutdown in order to extract concessions like defunding Planned Parenthood. Here's the story from Greg Sargent at the Washington Post/Plum Line.

On Wednesday night, the Republican presidential candidates will gather in Colorado for their first debate focused wholly on the economy.

This spectacle will unfold with only six days to go until the Republican-controlled Congress must raise the debt limit on November 3rd. There appears to be at least a possibility that it might not, which could plunge the United States into default, an outcome that even some conservative economists have warned could lead to economic catastrophe.

A deal on the debt ceiling is reported to be in the works with Boehner trying to leave a "clean barn" for his successor. Will the candidates on stage make meaningful, sensible contributions to this process?

And some of the GOP candidates may feel required — or may see an opportunity — to rile up conservative base voters by blasting the deal as a sellout, because it extracted insufficient concessions from Democrats in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and funding the government. Conservatives, of course, are demanding that GOP leaders hold firm and win a whole grab bag of goodies in exchange for averting default and keeping the government functional.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is already laying down a hard marker, urging GOP leaders not to capitulate by agreeing to a "clean" debt limit hike. Donald Trump has said that GOP leaders should use the debt limit as a "negotiating tool" to force spending cuts. John Kasich has been evasive on whether there should be conditions for a hike. Marco Rubio voted against a debt limit hike in 2013, explicitly because it didn’t force spending cuts. I’m unaware of anything Jeb Bush has said on the topic. Meanwhile, at the most recent GOP debate, several of the GOP candidates called on GOP leaders to use the battle over government funding to force Dem concessions, such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Whenever we’ve faced these crises in the past, polls have tended to show that majorities want the crises averted and reject efforts to attach conditions to it. This time around polls are suggesting the same. Yet at the coming debate, at least some of the Republican candidates may be advocating for the maximally confrontational approach, despite all the economic damage that could entail.

Of course, candidates advocating for that approach will claim that it is really Democrats who would really be causing default and/or the government shutdown, as some of them are already trying to do. But you’d think that CNBC debate moderators — who include the excellent John Harwood — would be able to press Republicans effectively on the debt limit in particular, hopefully revealing the true nature of their position, which is that GOP leaders should insist on unilateral concessions in exchange for averting massive economic damage to the country. More broadly, the candidates will be pressed to defend more fiscal brinkmanship in the context of a debate over the economy, even as Congressional leaders are trying to reach a bipartisan deal that might put the recovery on more solid footing.

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