Political Animal


January 14, 2013 11:59 AM Paying the Bills

By Ed Kilgore

In his press conference this morning the president continued making an argument about the debt limit that is simple and quite interesting if you think about it:

He objected to the characterization of a debt ceiling increase as analogous to more government spending. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has demanded a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar the debt ceiling is raised.
“The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending,” Obama said. “Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. it simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already agreed to.”

Republicans (and many fiscal hawks in both parties) are deeply in the habit of employing the false and dangerous analogy of family financing for its descriptions of America’s fiscal problems: when you are struggling to pay your credit card bills, you have to stop using them—maybe even cut them up. Holding a debt limit increase hostage to spending reduction demands—or more accurately, to the demand that Democrats identify and support domestic spending reductions so as to provide bipartisan “cover” for a strategic strike on the “Welfare State”—is analogized to this brave but necessary and above all responsible approach to national profligacy.

Obama is seeking to promote a different and much more technically accurate analogy: threatening to deny a debt limit increase, regardless of the rationale, is like refusing to pay those credit card bills altogether. And that’s difficult to characterize as “responsible,” particularly when business leaders are denouncing the ploy in steadily more strident tones.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TR on January 14, 2013 12:27 PM:

    This can't be emphasized enough.

    This spending that the Republicans are suddenly so horrified about is spending that they approved. It's like they sat down at a fancy restaurant, ordered a giant meal and ate every bit. And then suddenly, when the check comes, they decide that they have an eating disorder and to address that, they're going to skip out on the bill.

    The Dine and Dash Republicans.

  • Peter C on January 14, 2013 12:28 PM:

    This is a good sign. It is important to reject their frame.

  • Mimikatz on January 14, 2013 12:45 PM:

    Obama is really right in his strategy and he made it pretty clear that the GOP strategy is really to cut the welfare state (but not defense) and deficit reduction is just the cover for that. He was also very strong in saying that if the GOP in Congress want to cut spending they can do so--just go ahead and pass the cuts to Medicare and SS. Of course they did in passing the Ryan budget in the House, although it didn't really cut the debt until 10 years out.

    I thought he framed it just right and shame on the press corpse for wanting him to say he would save them from the evil GOP.

  • troglodyte on January 14, 2013 12:49 PM:

    I saw some interesting billboards in Union Station DC this weekend, all thrashing the government for spending too much. Some of the billboards were painted onto the floor outside the Metro station entrance. Trying the Howard Beale approach.

  • sparrow on January 14, 2013 1:14 PM:

    I thought Obama was pretty clear in laying out the case for his position on the debt ceiling, yet the press seemed either not to be listening or were simply asking redundant questions hoping to get something out of Obama that would allow them to keep the drama going.

  • lb22 on January 14, 2013 1:35 PM:

    Here is how the household budget analogy makes sense.

    A husband and wife spend more money that they earn every month. They realize this can't go on, but neither wants to stop spending money, or work longer hours to bring more income in. They hit upon a solution, they will continue to take in the same amount of money, and still spend the same amount, but they will quit paying their credit card bill for things that they already bought and trash their credit score.

  • taritac on January 14, 2013 1:44 PM:

    It does not matter how the President frames the argument. It doesn't matter how reasonable he sounds or how much he shames the Republicans. There is no way in hell they will pass a clean debt ceiling increase.

  • Crissa on January 14, 2013 11:55 PM:

    The credit card analogy?

    It's like putting everything on the card, but when the bill comes you reverse charges on the retailers who accepted your credit.

    These guys are crooks.