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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 11/23/2010

Sad but true

By Ezra Klein

Chris Beam describes the coming "debate" over lifting the debt ceiling:

The looming "debate" over whether to raise the debt ceiling beyond $14.3 trillion is not a debate in the typical sense, in which one side argues for the wisdom of a policy and the other argues against it. Rather, it's a debate like that between a hostage negotiator and a suicide bomber. Unless the negotiator agrees to the bomber's demands, the bomber will take out the negotiator and everyone else with him.

To put this in simpler terms, the need to lift the debt ceiling gives the GOP leverage. To get a negotiated settlement here, Democrats need leverage of their own. They have that in the Bush tax cuts, which the Republicans desperately want to extend, and which clearly increase the deficit and so could be reasonably paired with a vote on the debt ceiling. We can have less debt and higher taxes or more debt and lower taxes, but not both.

If Democrats extend the Bush tax cuts without lifting the debt ceiling, however, their leverage vanishes and they're at the GOP's mercy when February -- and the debt vote -- rolls around.

By Ezra Klein  | November 23, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
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You're implying the Democrats can't simply pass the buck to the Republicans on the House.

If the Republicans can't pass the measure, why would it be the Democrats fault? Republicans will now be in charge in the House, and have the numbers to pass the debt ceiling extension on their own.

That's the game the Republicans have been playing. I don't see why the Democrats can't play it.

Posted by: JERiv | November 23, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

That's kind of bone headed. If the Republicans want to 86 the United States by voting against raising the Debt Ceiling Democrats would be wise to let them and be very public about saying who led to it.

The Democrats would be idiots to agree to continue the bush43 tax cuts to the top 2%. Again, let the Republicans take the US hostage and be very public about who is doing it and why.

Most Americans don't want the uber wealthy to get tax cuts nor do they want Republicans to scuttle the US economy. Let them do it. It will hurt republicans the most and Democrats will have to call Republicans bluff eventually. Why wait? Do it now.

Posted by: kindness1 | November 23, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

leverage with whom? With the Democrats if the Democrats allow that to happen, I suppose.

Posted by: bdballard | November 23, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Man, if I had any power I'd ban you from writing on this subject. Democrats do not need to negotiate with Republicans on this issue. Congress has to raise the debt ceiling. Why are you legitimizing fake suicide bombers?

Negotiate with their war and their defense contracts. Shut down Lockheed Martin on the first day and that'll be the end of that. They own at least 50 Republican votes.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | November 23, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

You have been in Washington too long think that everything has to be negotiated; that every vote involves a deal.

Democrats who talk about extending the bankrupting cuts for any reason have no credibility. There will always be something else to trade for and the inequality will continue to grow.

Instead of talking about what kind of deals Democrats can make, you should be talking about how to frame the discussion so that people realize what is going on. The Republicans have done such a good job for so long that people who ought to know better, you for example, write columns like this.

Posted by: Athena_news | November 23, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Ezra's job is to rationalize the Democrats' past, ongoing, and future capitulations. In his view, giving away more breaks to rich people is a small price to pay for the crumbs that we might get at some undefined future date. My question: is he really that dumb, or is this just a disingenuous fig-leaf cover for the serial surrenders that we can expect from the Dems for the next two years? Another question - if Ezra and Matt are the Best and Brightest Progressives, and they've spent a majority of their time explaining to us why the WH and Dem leaders either can't or won't give us anything tangible, what does that say about them, and about the folks they serve so reflexively?

Posted by: redscott1904 | November 23, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I think most of the commenters here excoriating ezra are missing the point. Absent a deal on the debt ceiling, which I believe, because of the imbalanced incentives, is a very remote possibility, the Republicans are going to win and win big by holding the debt ceiling vote hostage in Feb.-Mar. They know they have to raise it, but to prove to their insane base that they are "serious" about slashing spending, the House will load up the bill with cuts everywhere, especially, as Cantor said, in Cabinet budgets and Federal employee pay. That will pass easily, and they'll play chicken with it in the Senate. Maybe the Senate will lower the pain a bit, but a lot of pain will get through, because Dems will obviously not filibuster it. Then it becomes a test of spine between the Congressional Republicans and the President. Who will win?

One strategic course for Dems is to enact filibuster reform, bringing cloture down to at least 55, and shaming 2 Republicans (or even just 1) to support a clean Senate bill, and then kick that to the House. Odds of happening: 2%.

Posted by: andrewlong | November 23, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Fortunately, I think Pelosi and Reid are less likely to cave on important base issues like these and will increasingly assert their leadership with the White House, especially now that Emmanuel is out of the picture.

Policywise, Pelosi and Reid can stay on offense by deferring to analysts such as Brian Hilliard of Societe Generale who said this morning on CNBC's Worldwide Exchange:

"Level of income growth is insufficient. One of the most striking features of this recession and then recovery has been that all the growth has generated revenues which have stayed with companies. They haven’t passed it on in labor income and they haven’t invested. And that's week for growth overall."

There is no way the Democrats can credibly justify, even temporarily, the continuation of supply-side or "trickle down economics" in the form of tax breaks for the wealthy in the face of such overwhelming evidence that it doesn't work.

Posted by: ReubenfromDenver | November 23, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse


Don't forget the suicide bomber doesn't believe he will be injured by detonating!

Republicans believe tax cuts raise revenue. Always. I think they believe a 0% corporate tax rate, 0% 250k+ tax rate, and current middle and lower class tax rates (maybe with higher social security and medicare rates, coupled with reduced benefits) will maximize our revenues.

Posted by: will12 | November 23, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

How credible is a bluff not to raise the debt ceiling? There's no non-catastrophic way to balance the budget overnight, but without raising the ceiling it's either that or defaulting on the debt. What kind of reward could Republicans expect for sending the U.S. into default in the middle of a grinding jobless recovery? How could Dems take that "threat" seriously enough to cave on a coupled vote on the extension of all Bush tax cuts?

This reminds me of the clever deal the Gang of 14 cut some years ago to stop Bill Frist from using "the nuclear option" to end confirmation filibusters. Dems: "If you promise not to use the nuclear option, we agree to deliver pretty much the same end result that you're threatening to use the nuclear option to achieve. Deal?"

Sigh. Those Dems sure can play hardball.

Posted by: onebeing | November 23, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

We don't need a deal on the debt ceiling. What we need is better articulation by the Democrats as to what it means and why it can't be held hostage to tax cuts that have already resulted in ever higher rates of debt and increased inequality.

The tax cuts have been a key factor in the accelerated rise of the national debt. It is nonsensical to talk about negotiating a raise in the debt limit by agreeing to continue a policy that is antithetical to attacking the debt.

If the Republicans want to destroy the economy, Democrats should make their intentions clear and not collaborate with the destruction.

Posted by: Athena_news | November 23, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Boehner come out this week and say that the Republicans should vote for raising the debt ceiling? Suppose all of the Democrats vote for it, it only takes, what, about 25 Republicans to vote for it. That seems like a small hill to climb as long as it comes up for a vote.

Posted by: klautsack | November 23, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the others above. There is no reason to start compromising over the debt ceiling. If Republicans want to play chicken with that we should let them. First, they have very little incentive to actually go through with it. The business community would freak. Second, if they did Democrats should go on the attack saying, "Republicans are blocking the US government from paying its bills. Etc. etc." That would wake up some more moderate types out there that voted for the GOP.

Posted by: Castorp1 | November 23, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Ezra is making the same mistake again and again and is not listening to voice of reason - why increasing the debt ceiling is a responsibility of Dems? GOP controls House so let them start it first (which anyways how it needs to be for money part legislation). If they do not want to increase that ceiling; let them go over the curb and let USA default and Market react to that. It will be all responsibility of GOP.

If GOP wants to negotiate with Devil and cut spending; let Dems go to American Public to pour 'oil in the fire' of American's anger. Let GOP face the music and the game will be same as like what GOP played in 111th Congress.

Point is to force GOP to 'govern' here and bring them to senses; not that Dems take blame here.

Ezra, you and our President; you are all of the same type - naive to the core and not knowing anything about politics (it is about ensuring People know about your political opponent so that when eventually you want to argue about the right course; People are ready.) We have Obama enough who is caving in and taking problems on his plates which he should not have brought in the first place; and here we have a prominent blogger inducing that additional 'guilt' for Democrats when they really need to drop that sense of ownership.

Dude in Nov Election, GOP became the majority party in House. It is now their job to show the path. If cutting entitlements is the path (what else can be); then let them 'sale' that to American Public. You do not jump ahead of the cart.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 23, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Andrewlong has it right. Unless Obama capitulates ahead of time, the House GOP will indeed put forward, at the last minute, a bill to raise the debt ceiling--but it will be loaded with as many unpalatable provisions as possible, all in the name of reducing spending and taxes. If the Senate or Obama rejects that bill and allows the country to default, the GOP shake their heads sadly and say, "it's not our fault." And the American public, assisted by the right-wing noise machine, will believe them.

Posted by: altofront | November 23, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

In other words altofront, you believe that the narrative is the Republican's to write; that the Democrats are doomed to ineffectually responding to whatever GOP says. That way of thinking is exactly why we are in the state we are in today.

Posted by: Athena_news | November 23, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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