Paul Ryan leads the charge
Raising the debt ceiling, as I noted yesterday, is a test for Republican leaders: Do they, to borrow a phrase, hold the country hostage and threaten a default on the debt, or do they use the opportunity to extract serious spending cuts? So far, it seems that House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) fully intends to do the latter. As this report from First Read explains:
Some conservative Republicans have urged their GOP colleagues to resist raising the ceiling -- which currently clocks in at $14.3 trillion -- under any circumstances. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is collecting signatures on her PAC's website "to force our elected officials to stop spending cold turkey," and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has advocated for a "big showdown" with Democrats by blocking the raise.
But House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan says that tactic isn't viable. "Just refusing to vote for it, I don't think that's really a strategy," he said, noting that a failure to raise the ceiling could result in the nation defaulting on its debts to investors.
"Will the debt ceiling be raised? Does it have to be raised? Yes," he said at an event sponsored by economics21 and the Manhattan Institute at the National Press Club Thursday.
But Ryan suggested that Republicans can tweak some specifics of the move - how many years the increase covers, for example. And, more importantly, they can tack on requirements for deep spending cuts as a condition of passage. "I want to make sure we get substantial spending cuts and controls in exchange for raising the debt ceiling," he said.
Ryan expanded on that theme on his Facebook page:
After Washington has shoveled trillions of dollars we don't have out the door, it is ridiculous to think we can't cut $100 billion in government spending. We plan on bringing spending cuts to the floor every week. Today, the House voted to cut its own budget by 5%. Next week, we'll vote to cut trillions by repealing the costly health care law. We need to attack Washington's pervasive culture of spending.
In other words, start strong, use the House's leverage to the maximum extent possible, and put the onus on the White House and the Senate to justify why cuts shouldn't be made. It is an approach enthusiastically endorsed by fiscal conservative groups. A spokesman Americans for Tax Reform said the group backed Ryan's effort to extract spending cuts and will be "running a major campaign exactly to this effect." He continued, "There should be substantive reforms tied to any debt limit hike. What form that takes is a prudential decision, but it should be substantive."
It's the first week yet, and we've barely begun, but notice how prominent Ryan is in the House strategy and public salesmanship departments. Because the issues are budget issues, he has extraordinary visibility, to an even greater degree than the speaker and majority leader. To their credit, both John Boehner and Eric Cantor are letting Ryan lead the charge. That allows Ryan to be the articulate and persuasive voice of the Republicans.
Liberal pundits have been all in a tizzy about "who will be the face of the GOP"? In the near run, the answer is Paul Ryan.
UPDATE(10:51 am): Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation applauds Ryan's approach, telling me that "this is a terrific opportunity to attach real spending cuts, and real budget reforms. Its must-pass legislation, so conservatives really can hold an upper hand winning long-term budget reforms." Likewise, Rep. Tom Price (R.-Ga.) sends out a statement that includes this: "For our part, Republicans have shown countless times that we are ready, willing, and committed to take those tough but necessary steps to ensure we do not leave our children and grandchildren with a legacy of fiscal ruin. In order to avoid forcing future generations to foot the bill or cause harm today by having the government default on its obligations, President Obama and Democrat leaders in the Senate will have to be willing to make substantial cuts in federal spending. It will require a rollback in the expansion of government our Democrat colleagues have previously championed and implemented."
| January 7, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
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