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Setting the “Must Haves” and the “Might Happens”: How To Fight The Debt Ceiling Fight

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Rising Deficits Drive U.S. Debt Limit Higher, Faster

In my conversation yesterday with Paul Ryan (and to a lesser extent in the chat with Rand Paul) the focus was on the debt ceiling negotiations.

Paul Ryan ticked off a list of what the GOP would like to have before agreeing to raise the limit.  Rand Paul noted the only thing he would take –a Balanced Budget Amendment.

There is a problem with both.  The Ryan approach lacks specificity as to priority. 

The Paul approach asks for an amendment which is more gesture than solution as it will never arrive as a ratified amendment in time to help in the present crisis, if ever.

What is necessary is a list of specific non-negotiables that the GOP lays out as its objectives in the negoitations.  Examples: A “chained CPR;” a higher retirement age for Social Security; a higher eligibility age for Medicare; means-testing for one or both programs.  I don’t know what the list is, but if the GOP wants to get it, that list must be laid out soon and repeated endlessly along with explanations as to why. Indeed, the list ought to be put into a House bill and sent along with the debt hike over to the Senate asap so as to center the debate in the Senate, where it belongs after the House as acted.

Congressman Ryan stated that the goal must be reductions in spending of the 1:1 variety, but this is too elusive a goal, and subject to manipulation until reduced to writing and in legislation.  If we need to change entitlements, then lay out the list of changes and go for it.

The second preparation for the end-game that has to begin now is the discussion of what happens if “we go through the limit” as Senator Paul put it and lose the ability to borrow.  He and Congressman Ryan discussed how doing so doesn’t mean default on sovereign debt, and if you want to prep markets for that eventuality and the partial government shut-down that follows, it is crucial to begin discussing it  —now.  

Arthur Brooks was on yesterday’s program as well, arguing that it was very bad policy for the GOP to “go through the limit.”  I will check at to see if James Pethokoukis or others are stating their case as to why we should not do this, but if the GOP intends to have leverage in this debate in February as the limit approaches, they have to make and win this argument, as well as the case as to why they will not be folding after two days of bad Beltway press.

All of this is easily foreseeable.  Easily.  What is not foreseeable is if the GOP will approach the debt ceiling deadline and the triggering of the sequestration as though it intends to win a round for itself –and for the country.


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