Political Animal


August 02, 2011 1:20 PM The end of a nightmare, a template for another

By Steve Benen

The Senate this afternoon voted 74 to 26 to approve the debt-ceiling agreement, following last night’s 269 to 161 vote in the House. The bill will head to President Obama, who will sign it with less than half a day remaining before the official deadline is reached.

That is, I suppose, the good news, insofar as avoiding default was the principal goal. The bad news, in addition to the legislation’s much-discussed flaws, is that the relevant institutions have established a dangerous precedent.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein explained this morning, “Those who have engaged in hostage-taking — threatening the economy and the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury to get their way — will conclude that their strategy worked. They will feel emboldened to pursue it again every time that we have to raise the debt limit in the future.”

There’s no need to consider this speculative. Leading Republicans have already made their intentions clear. Consider what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News last night about the deal:

“It set the template for the future. In the future, Neil, no president — in the near future, maybe in the distant future — is going to be able to get the debt ceiling increased without a re-ignition of the same discussion of how do we cut spending and get America headed in the right direction. I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.”

McConnell made a similar comment on the Senate floor this morning, boasting about how policymakers have established an “entire new template” for raising the debt ceiling in the future.

On ABC over the weekend, uber-activist Grover Norquist echoed the same line.

“[W]e’ve set the precedent…. We’re going to insist from now on, any time the debt ceiling goes up, dollar for dollar, spending comes down.”

In case anyone’s forgotten, over the last 72 years, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 89 times. Lawmakers from both parties, working with presidents from both parties, have treated this as routine housekeeping. Preconditions have never been applied to this process, and neither party has ever used the law to hold the nation’s full faith and credit hostage. Clean debt-ceiling votes have never been especially popular, but they’ve been a standard American norm for generations.

This year, far-right Republicans changed the game, and they apparently have no intention of going back. This wasn’t a one-time hostage strategy, threatening the nation’s well being in a fit of partisan rage; this was the creation of a new norm, to be repeated forever more. Why? Because the dangerous scheme worked — when radicalism is rewarded, the result is more radicalism.

It sets the stage for the next debt-ceiling showdown, likely to occur in early 2013. Between now and then, the more attention is focused on eliminating this law, the better.

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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  • Live Free or Die on August 02, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Obama: Washington should get things done. Washington caused the debt crisis Both sided are responsible for the FAA shutdown.

  • Live Free or Die on August 02, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Who is Washington?? Why is he incapable of saying the word republican?

  • doublej on August 02, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Hmmm...how's that gonna work when the R's start laying plans to invade Iran?

  • elisabeth on August 02, 2011 1:30 PM:

    So, now all of the Iowa delegation has voted against this bill. It makes for a weird experience as an Iowan. On the one hand, of course I want Tom Harkin to remain the true progressive and vote against this. On the other hand, I'm totally impatient with Grassley for being who he is, totally unwilling to look beyond his own crabbed fiscal policy.
    One wonders if there isn't some message in Iowa -- easy to say, ignore the Republican activity, it's all just the fringe. But, maybe it's a small state that somehow has managed to be a microcosm of the huge split in the country as a whole.

  • Alli on August 02, 2011 1:31 PM:

    Yeah those two guys never bullshit or spin. Instead of despairing or pointing fingers we can just you know, kick them out of the majority. Because that's actually how we got here.

  • KevinMc on August 02, 2011 1:31 PM:

    I can't claim credit for the following, it was a comment on a Bruce Bartlett article. But it seems true:


    A pimp tells his client if you sign up with me, I will protect you
    Grover says if you sign with me, I will protect you

    A pimp says if you are my client I guarantee you money
    Grover says, if you are my client, I will guarantee you money

    A pimp says if you do not sign with me I guarantee other women will be in your territory
    Grover says, if you do not sign with me, I guarantee a primary challenge

    A pimp says once you sign with me, I own you
    Grover says once you sign with me, I own you



  • Holly W on August 02, 2011 1:34 PM:

    Sure, because the strategy was rewarded and not punished by a media that never questioned whether the GOP tactic itself was over the line. And Democrats didn't push the issue in a coordinated message. Biden shouldn't have to hide from his comment. He and others should have been pushing it for months. It's economic and political terrorism which, even if not as bad as violent terrorism, shares similarities in approach: give us what we want or we will create devastation in America. Force the media to discuss it and make your case. Is it so much harsher than "hostage takers' (a phrase both sides used; Democrats, accurately, Republicans to say "Nu-uh, YOU are") The GOP paid some political price for their anti-tax vehemence but they should have paid for using the threat of sabotage of the American economy for leverage.

  • Texas Aggie on August 02, 2011 1:34 PM:

    One wonders how the Democrats are responsible for the FAA shutdown. They aren't the ones who are beating working people into the ground, the republicans are. The Democrats should have come back with a proposal that every nonvote count as a yes.

    I think it was G(irly) B(oy) or Lush Rimbaugh who accused Obama of developing some sort of Special Ops group that would do assassinations of his political opponents. That McConnell and the Tea Baggers in the House are still alive is proof positive that Beck and/or limbaugh lied.

  • c u n d gulag on August 02, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Somehow, I think if President Jeb Bush wants a debt ceiling increase, Vice President Liz Cheney will remind everyone that Reagan proved that deficits don't matter.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 02, 2011 1:38 PM:

    I am looking forward to the next shit sandwich I get shoved down my throat.
    I know radical minorities all over the world are looking at us and saying "Is that a great country or what?"
    The Minority gets its way every time.

    formerly Mr. Serf Man

  • Live Free or Die on August 02, 2011 1:38 PM:

    I will go there. OBL wanted to take a missile to our economic system, unless we did what he wanted. Fortunately we took out his ass. Teahist bin Ladin wanted to take a missile to our economic system, unless we did what they wanted. I'm not comparing the two though. Lets just say Teahadist bin Ladin are economic terrorist.

  • TR on August 02, 2011 1:39 PM:

    Democrats need to link together those clips of Republicans bragging about how this is a new precedent and run them as an ad in 2012.

    Independents and swing voters hated the shit they pulled here, and yet they're bragging about how they'll do it again? We need to remind swing voters that voting Republican means reliving this nightmare, or worse, a second round that actually ends in default.

    Roll the tape and save it for later.

  • Sister A on August 02, 2011 1:40 PM:

    Sooooo... do the Dems then tie negotiations over upcoming budgets to either an automatic rise in the debt ceiling (tied to whatever the budget will require), or even better, to abolishing the ceiling altogether? It drives me crazy that Congress can approve a budget which they can predict will exceed the ceiling, and then end up with the GOP playing this hostage game out to the detriment of all.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 02, 2011 1:44 PM:

    CUNDy You may be joking about Jebster , but hwe will in fact run in 2016 and probably win, because by then the GW Bush reign will look like good times as the economy completely collapses from teaparty foolishness. Compared to the current crop , he appears as almost rational.

  • Anonymous on August 02, 2011 1:44 PM:

    c u n d gulag:

    This is what bothers me the most. What do you think would happen if Obama was somehow able to create a surplus like Clinton and a Republicans won the next Presidency? This is really nice scam they have going.

    Bush I- deficits not important (not Bush 1 but the others in his party)


    Bush Jr.-The surplus means that the govt is keeping too much of your money. Besides deficits do not matter.


  • bigtuna on August 02, 2011 1:45 PM:

    you are waiting for 2013? Hell, the FAA fiasco is another sympton; and who knows - Grover the asshole is eyeing the federal gas tax that sunsets in 2 months [though, even that one, with its huge return to states, is hard to see congressmen voting against ... but who knows .....


  • Miki on August 02, 2011 1:45 PM:

    What McConnell didn't say was that this new template will only apply to Democratic presidents.

  • T2 on August 02, 2011 1:48 PM:

    eliminating the law??? Amidst all the furor over the House Hostage Takers, we seem to have forgot that before the TeaParty House began controlling our nation, the Right Wing Senate has spent 3 years changing the "majority" in the Senate from 51 votes to 60 votes...effectively killing numerous attempts by Obama and the Dems to do good things for America. Nope, that law won't change. As Gulag says, as soon as a GOPer is president, we won't hear anything about Debt Ceilings or Deficits any more. And the poor Dems will yell and scream...but no one will listen.

  • TCinLA on August 02, 2011 1:48 PM:

    Forget about re-electing President Neville Chamberlain next year, what we need to pay attention to is getting a 61-seat Senate and a majority in the House, so regardless of which feckless moron is put in the White House, we can overcome these Confederate Traitors masquerading as Republicans, and start putting things back in order. All these threats on the part of the southern scum are based on their maintenance of a House majority and more than 40 votes in the Senate. Get rid of that and like I said, it doesn't matter if President Feckless Moron as a D or an R after his name.

    Of course, right now the Committee to Re-elect Neville Chamberlain is trying to suck up all the political money in the room, leaving nothing for House and Senate races. This proves what idiots they are, since four years of President Chamberlain with a Republican House and Senate will seriously kill everything (including President Chamberlain). (But remember, Axelrod and Plouffe are geniuses, they gave us what we have today)

  • Danp on August 02, 2011 1:50 PM:

    This is another example of false equivalency. Dems couldn't do this to a R president, because the media would treat the issues completely different.

    Furthermore, Wall Street powers may not approve a second stunt like this. They created the tea party movement and they can make it melt away. Foreign investors may see a second stunt as an eternal flaw in our bond investments. And at some point even the uninformed majority will see through this cloud of manure.

  • nemisten on August 02, 2011 1:52 PM:

    As usual, O'Connell is spewing pure BS.

    As soon an R is in the WH, and the neocons want to spend trillion$ on another war or tax cuts for billionaires, anyone who opposes automatically raising the debt ceiling will be labeled an unpatriotic terrorist. And the right-wing echo chamber will repeat it ad nauseum.

    And, like always, the Dem's will whimper and cave. Gawd-f*kg dummit all...

  • TCinLA on August 02, 2011 1:52 PM:

    think it was G(irly) B(oy) or Lush Rimbaugh who accused Obama of developing some sort of Special Ops group that would do assassinations of his political opponents.

    Wow - wouldn't it be great if we did??? I'd love the black helicopters and the GOP concentration camps - we could torture them with a diet of tofu hot dogs and Bud Lite.

  • Live Free or Die on August 02, 2011 1:52 PM:

    The media is obviously scared of something. Perhaps Murdoch blackmail. There is no other explanation why they kept saying "both sides", when even a child could tell that the GOP caused the who situation. I mean the media were doing the same type of thing across the pond.

  • Styve on August 02, 2011 1:58 PM:

    Campaign Finance reform would certainly take a bit of wind out of Rethuglican sails! I don't quite understand how the presence of 40+ teabaggers, recently elected, has so hijacked the republican party. The newbies should be recalled, if that is all it would take to right the ship of state, but I fear it is a lot more.

  • lou on August 02, 2011 2:02 PM:

    When the war funding votes came up during GW's terms the dems could have held up the process by demanding that the Bush tax cuts be rescinded to pay for the war.
    Similar game. Would the Republicans have caved? Of course the dems would not have had the balls to do something like that but that is exactly what should have been done when they had the power to do it.

  • Styve on August 02, 2011 2:03 PM:

    Did you read Frank Rich's piece calling Murdoch and O'Reilly thugs, and projecting that any dirty business done in Europe was probably amplified here in the US, with twerps like O'Reilly at the helm?? Good point you made! Forget Campaign Finance reform...shut down Fox!!

  • jjm on August 02, 2011 2:04 PM:

    The media has to claim 'both sides' because every single thing the GOP/TP wants is the opposite of what the people want. Their only real aim is to spread their stink over the democrats.

    Actually, this means they are skunks in every sense of the word.

  • stormskies on August 02, 2011 2:05 PM:

    and 45% of our population will continue to vote/ elect these repiglicans ... united stupid america we are ...

    USA ! USA ! USA !

  • tolkien on August 02, 2011 2:10 PM:

    No to worry. I'm pretty sure Obama won't get reelected* because, thanks to not passing any stimulus, the economy is about to get much, much worse, and he will be blamed for it. Once a Republican is in the white house there will be no resistance, on either the right, or the left, to raising the debt ceiling. So taking the debt ceiling hostage again will be a complete non-issue for quite some time.

    *Note, despite his many, huge flaws, I'd still rather Obama did get reelected rather then a Republican, but it just won't happen.

  • Tom Dibble on August 02, 2011 2:10 PM:

    I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.

    ... Which says to me: we'd better make DAMNED sure there are ADULTS in Congress in 2013, instead of this immature bunch of tantrum-throwers!

    This GOP tantrum should be Campaign Ad #1 for every single prospective House campaign in 2012. Mix it in with the GOP's un-American beliefs and goals (voter suppression, corporate giveaways) to bring home the point that you can't just ignore the overall trend in GOP craziness and vote for your local candidate because he seems like a nice guy who would do the right thing in the end. In the end, they are committed to doing exactly what they said and carry that down to every sordid implication. They will ruin the country for political gain.

    This is a short-term win for the loons. Long-term, it SHOULD cause a major loss of momentum and mindshare. That is, of course, if it gets reported and publicized, rather than the story here continuing to be portrayed as a "Typical Washington Failure". Washington isn't perfect, but the spectacular Washington Failures happen when the crazies get too much power, such as now.

  • SW on August 02, 2011 2:11 PM:

    In other news, the ransom for kidnapping by Somali pirates is now up to $89 million. Once you start paying, there is no end to it.

  • SWT on August 02, 2011 2:11 PM:

    We did this whole stupid thing because Congress passed a budget that they knew would require borrowing greater than the debt ceiling at the time on enactment. This is a preventable problem

    Call me naive, but I think Obama needs to say "I will veto any budget bill that does not include a debt ceiling adjustment consistent with the projected revenues and expenditures included in that budget."

  • dcshungu on August 02, 2011 2:12 PM:

    McConnell: I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we will be doing it all over.

    I see a powerful campaign commercial in there somewhere: The bums are itching to do it all over again. Why should the country again suffer this ignominy? Let's take our country back: THROW THE BUMS OUT!

  • zeitgeist on August 02, 2011 2:12 PM:

    so do any of our Obama-can-do-no-wrong crowd care to defend him throwing other elected Democrats under the bus on false pretenses on the FAA issue?

    or explain how that helps encourage other Democrats (both elected officials and their supporters) to help him get re-elected?

    is helping break the unions and legitimizing the MSMs "both sides do it" approach part of the 11-dimensional chess I just don't understand yet?

  • Live Free or Die on August 02, 2011 2:12 PM:


    I am talking about the MSM not FOX. Surely there are journalist who have had nasty torrid affairs, or are in the closet, or might have even been a prostitute to get through college. I am sure Murdoch knows about all of these reporters dirt.

  • TCinLA on August 02, 2011 2:14 PM:

    This year, far-right Republicans changed the game, and they apparently have no intention of going back. This wasn’t a one-time hostage strategy, threatening the nation’s well being in a fit of partisan rage; this was the creation of a new norm, to be repeated forever more. Why? Because the dangerous scheme worked — when radicalism is rewarded, the result is more radicalism.

    Again, the conclusion of Churchill's excoriation of the Munich Agreement, which becomes only more and more relevant:

    And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

  • dontcallmefrancis on August 02, 2011 2:28 PM:

    You should add, this tactic only works for Republicans.

  • Sam on August 02, 2011 2:29 PM:

    Most of these people won't even be in office come 2013.

  • chuckwagon on August 02, 2011 2:29 PM:

    Next time hopefully there will be a Dem president who won't hesitate to employ the 14th Amendment option and put a stop to the extortion then and there.

  • lou on August 02, 2011 2:30 PM:

    With this bag of tricks why do they need a balanced budget amendment? They have the template to hell in a handbag. The worse things get, the fewer tax revenues they bring in, the more they get to exercise this nut busting power.

  • Brenna on August 02, 2011 2:33 PM:

    It's seriously frightening having this extremist GOP party. Who knows what lengths they'll go to hurt Obama and America?
    McConnell is just pure evil and enjoying every minute of this.

  • Josef K on August 02, 2011 2:47 PM:

    I still expect McConnell and Cantor (Boehner is no longer a serious factor) to overreach or push things past the breaking point. Quite frankly I don't see how the country can stand any more this melodrama, and won't be too terribly surprised if things break down rather violently in the near future.

    Remember, France was a stable monarchy for close to 1,400 years, only for it to come apart in an orgy of blood and madness. And the similarities between our current circumstances and pre-revoulionary France are hard to dismiss.

  • Styve on August 02, 2011 3:06 PM:

    Anyone think that Boehner is toast?

  • Danny Gail McElrath on August 02, 2011 3:27 PM:

    Well, duh! Everyone who is surprised raise their hand. Someone needs to bring this up to Obama in a news conference, ask him ask him why he thinks that is and how he plans to deal with it and not let him give a nonanswer.

  • hornblower on August 02, 2011 3:42 PM:

    Boy there is a lot of melodrama on this board.
    The Tea party has been exposed and Republicans running for office next year will have a stark choice. If the Democrats stay cool, unlike the people on this board, they can win large. A centrist President like Obama could do great things.

  • bob h on August 02, 2011 3:58 PM:

    Democratic thinkers and super-lawyers ought to be getting the legal arguments ready for abolition in 2012.

  • simplx on August 02, 2011 5:19 PM:

    Here is the President's next move: "I will veto any budget that does not include a provision to allow the money it is committing to be spent. There must be enough room under the debt ceiling to allow for the budget to be executed, including sufficient headroom to cover contingencies of a economic downturn or unexpected disaster."

    This puts the debate back on the budget bill, and I think one can win the argument if they want to budget money but refuse to allow that money to be raised.

  • Jack Hammer on August 02, 2011 6:25 PM:


    Next time hopefully there will be a Dem president who won't hesitate to employ the 14th Amendment option and put a stop to the extortion then and there.

    I approve of this message.

  • howie on August 02, 2011 7:03 PM:

    Hornblower: I guess one man's centerist President is another's sellout a**hole.I'm also guessing he'd have to strangle a puppy or child during a press conference before you'd admit he does anything wrong. Caving is just his way of making the rethugs overconfident, I guess.He's the smartest guy in the room, ya know.

    If Obama had run for pre on the slogan "No, we really can't", he would have lost but been honest. He made people think he was on their side and wanted to makes things better, when all he really was running for was homecoming king.

    Now he's done something to assure that every future Democratic President will be unable to govern without a looming GOPveto to everything he does.

    No drama, I just won't vote for a guy who proves again and again that he has nothing but contempt for suckers like me.

  • Cobwebhead on August 02, 2011 8:26 PM:

    We should let ALL of the Bush Tax cuts expire in 2012. The deficit conversation and the corresponding attack on the social safety net will come to a sudden halt.

    If the GOP wants to extend any of these tax cuts, make them come up with corresponding revenue increases (like a carbon tax, a wall street trade tax, an increase in capital gains rate, etc.).

    Afterwards, we can have a more "balanced" conversation about improving the tax code, funding entitlements, and the role of government.

  • Doug on August 02, 2011 9:39 PM:

    Dear God, I should have invested in smelling salts and not tech!
    For fifty years, whatever the slaveowners in Congress wanted, they got. For nearly sixty years, whatever the rich, corporations or individuals, wanted, they got. And you folks are bitching about 18 months of Teabaggers as if it's The End of the Republic?
    When, and if, ANY of you can show me the VOTES to pass anything other than this piece of crap debt-ceiling legislation, I'll start listening to your "arguments". Until then I'll consider them what they are: typical juvenile over-reaction. Hormonal, unreasoning, and unthoughtout. If we're to have a battle, I'd prefer it to be a "Gettysburg" or "Yorktown" and NOT a "Little Big Horn". The Teabaggers can have their "Alamo", but only if WE'RE Santa Ana!
    And, TCinLA, I understand LA has some very good libraries. May I suggest you go to one and check out some books on WWII? Your continued use of "Neville Chamberlain" as an insulting reference to President Obama does you no credit, either as a political commentator OR a student of history.
    The British and French could NOT provide ANY assistance to Czechoslovakia without the participation of the Soviet Union. The participation of the Soviet Union required that Poland allow Soviets troops and materiel to cross its territories, something the Polish government refused to allow.
    The French government refused to fight for Czechoslovakia UNLESS that state had access to Soviet troops and materiel, thus giving it a chance of defending itself. The French War Plan in 1938 was the same as in 1939; they were determined to fight a "defensive" war only. No "Aux Berlin" for them!
    So there you have it. The Prime Minister of island country, with no way of providing any effectual support, and no support to provide if it DID go to war, is forced to rely on the word of a Head of State. Oh, it gets even better, if Chamberlain HAD asked the House of Commons for a Declaration of War, there is every chance he would have gotten it - barely. You don't want a three-line whip resulting in a near party-line vote for a Declaration of War. Nothing like a "partisan" vote to ensure the country's behind you going into a war of choice.
    I have had a very high regard for Sir Winston Churchill since I first encountered his writings 45 years ago, but that doesn't blind me to the fact that he wasn't always correct in his assessments.
    Now, if anyone wants to refer to President Obama as "Fabius Cunctator", that's something else...

  • Texas Aggie on August 02, 2011 10:43 PM:

    "so we’ll be doing it all over.”

    But next time we intend to take the country the whole way over the cliff.