EDITORIALS

Introduce logic to debt-ceiling debate

Posted July 11, 2011, at 8:17 p.m.

Several articles have been written in recent days about the Republicans in Congress seemingly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on the debt ceiling and federal spending issues. They make good points.

One of the best summaries came from the The Economist. “Mr. Obama had been deplorably insouciant about the medium-term picture, repeatedly failing in his budgets and his state-of-the-union speeches to offer any path to a sustainable deficit. Under heavy Republican pressure, he has been forced to rethink,” the magazine wrote in a July 7 article headlined “Shame on Them.”

“Now, however, the Republicans are pushing things too far. Talks with the administration ground to a halt last month, despite an offer from the Democrats to cut at least $2 trillion and possibly much more out of the budget over the next 10 years,” The Economist concluded.

New York Times columnist David Brooks noted the Republicans’ many recent accomplishments — making the national debt and spending cuts the top of the agenda, sparking a discussion of entitlement cuts and forcing Democrats to tie raising the debt ceiling to spending cuts. “If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment,” he wrote in a July 4 column. “It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.”

Mr. Brooks called seizing this opportunity the “mother of all no-brainers.”

He continued: “But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.”

Nate Silver, who writes the Five Thirty Eight blog which uses statistics to explain and predict many things, explains why. Republicans can’t compromise because the party is beholden to a strict conservative sect more so than at any other time in recent memory. In the last election, 67 percent of those who voted Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives identified themselves as conservative, up from 48 percent a decade earlier. Ideology among Democrats is more evenly distributed, with 47 percent of those who voted for a Democrat saying they are moderate and 41 percent calling themselves liberal.

Further, those who identify as conservative are more likely to vote — making up 42 percent of those who voted in 2010, up from 34 percent in 2008, according to Mr. Silver’s analysis.

“As long as conservative Republicans are much more likely to vote than anyone else, the party can fare well … But it means that Republican members of Congress have a mandate to remain steadfast to the conservatives who are responsible for electing them.”

Hence they are loathe to accept a deal in which they get most of what they say they want.

The bottom line on the debt ceiling: It is time for leaders from both parties to step up and negotiate a deal (the outline — spending cuts, closing tax loopholes, entitlement reform — is well set) that puts the best interests of the country ahead of political advantage.

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