Political Animal


July 15, 2011 10:40 AM The simple solution that isn’t on the table

By Steve Benen

The New York Times has a perfectly good summary this morning of all the various possible solutions to the debt-ceiling standoff. The NYT’s Michael Shear identified eight separate plans.

By now, everyone is surely a bit confused.

Anyone watching the news this week understands that President Obama and lawmakers are racing the clock to raise the nation’s debt ceiling by Aug. 2 while passing legislation to address the country’s soaring deficit.

But after weeks of high-level, closed-door negotiations in the nation’s capital, there are more than a half-dozen proposals floating around that might achieve that.

Democrats like some; Republicans like others. And some plans appear to be disliked equally by members of both parties. It’s hard to keep them straight. And so The Caucus has pulled together an explainer of the key proposals that Mr. Obama and his Republican adversaries are arguing about.

The piece goes on to list the eight proposals, regardless of their viability, that have at least been bandied about. Everything from the “Grand Bargain” to the “Hybrid McConnell” is mentioned.

But there’s one idea that didn’t make the list.

Congress could, this morning, pass a clean bill that raises the debt ceiling, ends the crisis, reassures investors and markets around the world, and clears the way for Democrats and Republicans to go right back to fighting again. The whole process would take five minutes. It’s no different than having a car headed for a cliff, only to have the driver realize the brake works. All he has to do is step on it.

Since 1939, Congress has raised the debt limit 89 times. That’s not a typo. In fact, in two-thirds of these instances, there was a Republican president, and no one ever used the vote as leverage for a reward.

During the Bush presidency, Republicans raised the debt ceiling, without strings or preconditions, seven times. The current GOP leadership in Washington has voted to raise the debt limit 19 times. In all 19 cases, it was a clean bill. Bush’s former budget director said this “ought to be treated as the housekeeping matter it is.”

But we’ve now reached the point at which routine housekeeping, which didn’t even give conservative Republicans a second thought as recently as 2008, is considered so beyond the pale, that when it’s time to review policymakers’ options to resolve a crisis of their own making, the easy, straightforward, and customary solution isn’t even mentioned.

One effortless vote makes the entire problem disappear. I can’t think of any potential crisis that’s so serious and yet so easy to resolve. But this isn’t even a possibility because the Republican Party has lost its mind.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Okie on July 15, 2011 10:50 AM:

    Might as well pass a clean bill, and continue the argument when it comes time to fund the federal government after Sep 30 when this fiscal year ends. You KNOW that the Republicans will be just as intransigent then.

  • stormskies on July 15, 2011 10:53 AM:

    Isn't another simple solution for the president simply to assert the Constitution itself in the form of the 14th amendment ?

  • Grumpy on July 15, 2011 10:53 AM:

    Everything from the “Grand Bargain” to the “Hybrid McConnell” is mentioned.

    I'll take "Euphemisms when soliciting a hooker" for $400, Alex.

  • whichwitch on July 15, 2011 10:53 AM:

    It should've been a clean bill in the first place. All this political drama and theater to call attention to and promote themselves. Ugh!

    Captcha: eczema optioni...eeew - I don't think so.

  • tomb on July 15, 2011 10:57 AM:

    I have always thought that the President and Dems should have been pushing for this and made the case just like you did. If the GOP doesn't go along, then it's their issue and let them come up with an acceptable solution. Unfortunately, the "Tea Party" caucus is determined NOT to raise the debt ceiling regardless of any compromises.

  • T2 on July 15, 2011 10:59 AM:

    yeah, GOP's lost it's mind all right....and they are the ones yelling about "taking our country back". Lets face it. The only thing different between now and the other 89 times is the color of the president's skin.

  • FRP on July 15, 2011 11:00 AM:

    ...But this isn't even a possibility because the Republican Party has lost its mind...

    It has been rough all over . Mental illness for its immediate sufferers and family , an unendurable unending pain .

    When we look back on this period and see what medicines were discovered then brought into common usage I would like to see how they spell Hemlock .

  • walt on July 15, 2011 11:02 AM:

    While I think this crisis will end quickly, I certainly hope it doesn't end with another Obama capitulation, or some deal just to make this debate permanent in Congress. Indeed, the permanent political campaign is permanently damaging this country. While the I wish only the best for the exquisite sensibilities of our Tea Party zealots, I wish they would do the nation and favor and die already.

  • foghorn on July 15, 2011 11:05 AM:

    Barring the simple solution and although the President seems to have ruled out the 14th amendment, I wonder if he did use it would that redound in his favor. Seems to me it would make him a hero.

  • LL on July 15, 2011 11:09 AM:

    You know, if all you liberals hadn't put that muslim-socialist-traitor in the White House, we wouldn't have to do this. You should have known better. We simply CANNOT have a black man in the White House. And we'll do anything--and we mean ANYTHING--to get him out of there.

    That's what this is all about. That all this has ever been about. The Confederacy lives. Whatever anyone may think.

  • square1 on July 15, 2011 11:16 AM:

    when it's time to review policymakers' options to resolve a crisis of their own making, the easy, straightforward, and customary solution isn't even mentioned...this isn't even a possibility because the Republican Party has lost its mind.

    The 8 options listed by the NYT were chosen for a reason: They are the options currently being proposed by the participants in the negotiations, both Republicans and Democrats. The "clean bill" option isn't listed because neither side has pushed for it as a solution.

    Benen can whine all he wants about the Republicans having lost their minds. But no about of GOP craziness prevents the Democrats from even proposing good solutions. If the White House, Reid, or Pelosi was asking for a clean bill, the NYT would have reported on it. Hell, if the Congressional Progressive Caucus would make public calls for a clean bill, it might give their group some relevancy in the negotiations. I like Raul Grijalva but the guy lets himself and the CPC get treated like a doormat by the party leaders.

  • Jon on July 15, 2011 11:20 AM:

    What adds the spice to America's woes is that they are almost all entirely self-inflicted. Amazing, really. We have everything we need to succeed wildly as a nation except a sane and responsible citizenry. The American Experiment is over. It failed at its most basic task.

  • zmulls on July 15, 2011 11:23 AM:

    Can I just say that Chuck Todd is a freaking moran [sic]?

    a) Nobody freaking cares how the President FEELS about negotiations

    b) The Bowles/Simpson plan does not exist. The commission did not vote on an approach. The two chairman decided to step around the team and give their personal ideas and make it look like the commission endorsed them.

  • bdop4 on July 15, 2011 11:23 AM:

    Why Obama didn't stand his ground on this issue is beyond me. Instead, he validated the "debt crisis" scam by negotiating terms with the inmates.

    My post from the previous thread:

    "It's late, but not too late for whatever few sane republicans that are left in the GOP to come to their senses and vote for a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling.

    The McConnell Plan is probably unconstitutional, and you KNOW it's going to be challenged in court. I think guys like Corker are starting to realize that the throwing their lot in with the teabaggers is going to be very bad for them and the party in the long term.

    If the teabaggers force a default, the consequences are going to eviscerate the GOP. They may survive the primary, but they will be vaporized in the general election if they go along with this insanity."

    I gotta believe that when enough pressure is brought to bear, there are enough relatively sane repubs out there who will jump the sinking teabag ship and do the right thing.

    These guys read polls, and it's not pretty (for them).

  • c u n d gulag on July 15, 2011 11:25 AM:

    Remember "Failsafe?"

    Well, this is 'Safefail.'

    Republicans feel if they do safe thing, they'll have failed.

    I think the "Grand Bargain" everyone needs to look at is the one they made with the Devil.

  • bdop4 on July 15, 2011 11:28 AM:

    Square1 - Agree 100%

  • Bless on July 15, 2011 11:29 AM:

    An empty bill would squander the opportunity to restore some balance to our tax code. But more to the point, maintaining the current tax rates would cause The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, *to* be questioned, as said tax code doesn't cover our bills - pure and simple.

    If congress does not pass legislation that
    * Raises tax rates on earnings over a million
    * Raises debt ceiling significantly

    the president is compelled to enforce measures that would accomplish the very same via executive order or a signing statement, at which point he could jack the top earner rates up as high as he deemed fit in order to maintain the validity of the public debt.


  • j on July 15, 2011 12:14 PM:

    I for one am infuriated that Grover Norquist who has not been elected for anything is controlling the government and the fortunes of the American public.
    The republican controlled congress debates
    light bulbs for two days and waits for their orders from Norquist.

  • Neil B on July 15, 2011 12:21 PM:

    Don't just pick on the Republicans. What the hell is wrong with Michael Shear? He's the one who didn't note the simple clean ceiling raise in a list he had complete control over (well, not counting what his employer wanted, which may explain such apparent stupidity.)

    Everyone: Go on the NYT comment site, rake Shear over the coals for not having that on the list. He damaged the public's ability to perceive the full range of options and playing into the hands of the Republicans.

  • Sam Wang on July 15, 2011 12:22 PM:

    I believe there was previously a move to link raising the debt ceiling with the annual appropriations process, in 1995, right after the Republicans took over Congress. That was the year of a federal government shutdown.

  • Neil B on July 15, 2011 12:26 PM:

    As for the complaint "why didn't/don't the Democrats just propose a clean bill" to raise the DL - well, they can't effectively get it up to a vote from the House, but maybe talking about it more would help?

  • JM917 on July 15, 2011 1:23 PM:

    My slightly edited post from another thread (which was in response to a doomsday prediction from Josef K):

    You're right, except that I still don't think the US will actually default.

    Here's how I see your scenario working out: Nothing happens next week (except for the House yacking and then then passing a "Balanced Budget Amendment"), as global markets start to rumble increasingly loudly and Obama issues increasingly ominious warnings of doom.

    Then--late next week or at the start of the following week (i.e., Monday, July 25)--investors go into panic mode. The Dow, as well as markets worldwide, drops by 10%, maybe in a single day.

    Amid the pandemonium, Obama declares the the United States WILL NOT default on its debts and therefore invokes the Fourteenth Amendment, on his own authority raising the debt ceiling until January 2013. And, since this is a step of debatable constitutionality, he demands that Congress immediately pass legislation ratifying this increase in the debt ceiling in order to restore global confidence in the credit of the United States of America.

    Given that scenario, what do you think the House of Representatives would then do (apart from starting impeachment proceedings)?

  • Joe Friday on July 15, 2011 2:17 PM:

    After laying out the first option (the "big deal"), and the second option (the "small deal"), at his presser Obama spoke of the third option:

    "The fallback position, the third option and I think the least attractive option, is one in which we raise the debt ceiling but we don't make any progress on deficit and debt."

    The White House is now officially against a clean debt-ceiling bill.

  • square1 on July 15, 2011 2:25 PM:

    Neil B: As I said earlier, Michael Shear made a list of proposals that have been put forth by those negotiating a deal. He wasn't putting together a list of hypothetical deals that could be made if Congress and the White House were replaced by people with brains and integrity.

    If Democrats aren't ASKING for a clean bill, then Michael Shear is not going to put that in his list. I fail to see how it is the fault of the NYT if nobody involved suggests the best possible solution.

  • Neil B on July 15, 2011 4:33 PM:

    Joe Friday, first you're forgetting that Obama can't just get that kind of clean bill off the ground, he had to negotiate with Republicans. Second, there's nothing wrong with him trying to make a deal to trim long-term growth in the deficit/debt, that's worth doing and he has a right to try to make it a reasonable path. Third, he called it a "fall-back" position which at least means it's what he considers "there" if no deal can be agreed to - but the Republicans don't want to get that far.

    You people try too hard to denigrate Obama's efforts, imperfect as they may be.

    Square1, that takes some blame off Shear but a good journalist, not just a transcriptionist, would have noted that as a "possible option" as most of us understand the term, broadly.

  • Joe Friday on July 15, 2011 5:18 PM:


    "first you're forgetting that Obama can't just get that kind of clean bill off the ground, he had to negotiate with Republicans."

    I'm not forgetting that, but you must be forgetting that my point was not what he can or cannot get, but what he does not want:

    "the third option and I think the least attractive option"

    Don't shoot the messenger.

    "there's nothing wrong with him trying to make a deal to trim long-term growth in the deficit/debt, that's worth doing and he has a right to try to make it a reasonable path."

    True, but there's a budget process for that.

    "You people try too hard to denigrate Obama's efforts"

    A) "You people" ?

    B) I merely pointed out that we went into this with the official White House position being they favored a clean debt-ceiling bill, and now the official White House position is they are against a clean debt-ceiling bill.

    Where's the attempt to "denigrate" in that ?

  • Doug on July 15, 2011 10:01 PM:

    By not pushing a "clean" bill, President Obama is leaving the Republican/Teabaggers a way out; IF they're smart enough to see it and use it.
    As for a "clean" bill being third on the President's list, so what? Considering what the President and Democratic leaders have had to put with from Republican/Teabaggers, I certainly don't blame Mr. Obama for wanting to have more to show for it than a simple, large-enough-to-last-two-years, increase in the debt ceiling. I mean, would YOU want to be stuck in the same room with Boehner, McConnell and Cantor? I thought not.
    During the past 2+ years, President Obama has had to accept quite a few compromises. I would imagine he'd just chalk this up as yet another.
    After laughing and laughing and laughing...

  • Joe Friday on July 16, 2011 12:49 AM:


    "By not pushing a 'clean' bill, President Obama is leaving the Republican/Teabaggers a way out; IF they're smart enough to see it and use it."

    Actually, McConnell is pushing a "clean" bill with no spending cuts attached. As I posted in a previous thread, since McConnell's plan is "non-binding", then Obama could propose raising taxes on the Rich & Corporate, cutting military spending, cutting Corporate Welfare, and eliminating subsidies to the oil, timber, and mining industries.

    Three times between now and the next election, the Dems would get to vote for what the American people heavily favor, and the Republicans would have to vote against.

    "As for a 'clean' bill being third on the President's list, so what"

    It's not just third, but LAST on his list.

    "Considering what the President and Democratic leaders have had to put with from Republican/Teabaggers, I certainly don't blame Mr. Obama for wanting to have more to show for it than a simple, large-enough-to-last-two-years, increase in the debt ceiling."

    Why ?

    They're going to go through all of this all over again with the budget process, so why do it twice ?

  • square1 on July 16, 2011 2:23 AM:

    Joe Friday: Thanks for your efforts to bring some sanity to the discussion. As you can see, like Steve Benen, there are certain commenters here who appear to like nothing more than to project their own personal policy preferences onto President Obama. Any failure of Obama to meet their wishes is blamed on (in descending order of frequency): (1) Republicans, (2) the media failing to deliver the Democratic message, and (3) procedural hurdles in Congress.

    There is nothing these commenters hate more than to have to address the actual words of Obama and his staffers which frequently contradict the commenters' claims that Obama is a poor victim of circumstance.

    How many times in the past several weeks has Obama said that he wants to use the present standoff as an opportunity to put together a long-term deficit reduction package? How many times has he said he wants to "think big" and not "kick the can down the road"? Despite these clear, clear statements by Obama that he is embracing this opportunity, Doug floats the preposterous idea that Obama is proposing a $4T debt-reduction package simply because, after being stuck in a room with Cantor and Boehner, he wants something to show for it.

    Not even I would insult Obama so much as to suggest that he would propose trillions of dollars in spending cuts out of boredom.