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Rob Horowitz: House Republicans Hold Debt Ceiling Hostage—Again

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


With the October 15 deadline for the debt ceiling increase looming, tensions are rising.

It was only a little over two years ago that an unprecedented extended fight over raising the debt ceiling and paying the bills already incurred by the United States led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the nation’s credit rating. Unfortunately, some House Republicans learned nothing from that debacle. The Tea Party Wing of the House Republican Majority is once again holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, threatening default as the Oct. 15 deadline for another increase in the debt ceiling fast approaches.

A main reason for the 2011 downgrade was the debt ceiling fight itself. "The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as American governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become bargaining chips in this debate over fiscal policy,” the Standard & Poor’s report issued at the time of the decision explained.

Wake-up call

Part of the problem in 2011 was that many House members believed nothing would happen if we did not raise the debt ceiling. Recognizing this fact, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invested time and energy in bringing in Republican financial and budget experts to explain to his members that they were playing with fire. It was only when the business community weighed in that some of these ill-informed skeptics finally believed action was required.

This time some House Republicans are threatening to block an increase in the debt ceiling unless implementation of Obamacare is delayed for a year. These are not just the irresponsible noises of some Republican backbenchers: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) added his support last week.

Need to compromise

Continuing to carve out wiggle room, Speaker Boehner did not sign on to the specific Obamacare threat putting his conditions for debt ceiling approval in more general terms. “You can’t talk about increasing the debt limit unless you’re willing to make changes and reforms,” said the Speaker.

Boehner understands the political damage to the Republican brand--not to mention the harm to the economy-- that would be caused by a failure to adopt a debt ceiling increase. But his maneuvering room is limited by the hardcore in his caucus who consistently put narrow ideology ahead of the national interest, refusing any compromise.

In a tough competitive global economy, the fact that the full, faith, and credit of the United States stands for a dead solid guarantee of repayment is an enormous economic asset. That is why there is a tradition of bi-partisan support and routine adoptions for debt ceiling increases. As the deadline draws near, let’s hope that tradition is restored with enough House Republicans learning from 2011 to prevent debt ceiling déjà vu. The early signs are not all that encouraging.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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