Washington, D.C.’s professional political class and its media cheerleaders are pressing ever harder for a “grand bargain” to raise the national debt ceiling far beyond the current $14.3 trillion, hike taxes and enable special interests to continue feasting on out-of-control federal spending.
Only two things prevent enactment of such a deal: House Republicans, especially most members of the class of 2010, and a majority of the American people. This majority wants federal spending reduced, but it does not want either the debt ceiling or taxes increased.
So now would be a good time for House Republicans to rediscover a crucial fact about the U.S. Constitution: Congress has all of the ultimate weapons in any showdown with either of the other two branches. And the most important of those weapons — the power of the purse — lies with the House of Representatives.
The key players in the debt-ceiling drama are President Barack Obama, the Senate Democratic majority and the House Republican majority. Any one of the three can block the other two. And since all spending and taxation must originate in the House, the lower chamber holds the most important card in any confrontation over federal spending and taxes.
House Republicans can first exercise the power of the purse to nullify the threat of fiscal Armageddon. And second, they can force Obama and Senate Democrats either to veto or accept the will of the majority of the American people.
House Republicans should pass legislation that raises the debt ceiling just enough, say $250 billion, to gain sufficient time, 30 to 60 days, to accomplish the second goal. The debt-ceiling increase should be made conditional on the Treasury Department paying the government’s bills according to the following priorities: interest on the national debt and government bonds; active-duty U.S. military, and Social Security and Medicare recipients; essential federal employees’ compensation; and selected other essential services.
To accomplish the second goal, House Republicans should pass a comprehensive appropriations bill that funds the government through 2013 while making genuine and immediate spending cuts of at least $250 billion. Then they must stand firm against the onslaught of self-serving protests and hyperventilating accusations that will surely follow.
House Republicans will be on the strongest possible ground — Social Security and Medicare recipients will keep receiving benefits, interest on the national debt and federal bonds will be paid, essential services continued and the debt-ceiling boost matched with equal spending cuts. Most importantly, House Republicans will put themselves decisively on the side of the majority of Americans who want federal spending reduced.
At that point, Obama and Senate Democrats will have two choices: Either block these House GOP measures, thus taking full responsibility for the consequences, or accept them and prepare to face the electorate in November 2012.