Debt Ceiling Increase is Likely To Fail at Least Once Before it’s Finally Adopted

This new Marist poll, which includes responses from just before and just after President Obama’s speech at George Washington University last Thursday, shows again that many of the most fundamental positions of the leaders of the tea party and GOP on the budget are at odds with a vast a majority of not just the country as a whole but with their own party as well when it comes to cutting Medicare and Medicaid.

However, the most informative response in the poll was about raising the federal debt ceiling. Almost 7 out of every 10 voters (69 percent) said the debt ceiling should not be raised. But with the exception of raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, those who responded didn’t support any of the things that would actually make it unnecessary to increase the amount the government borrows.

There are some important implications for the debate on increasing the federal debt ceiling that’s just ahead.

  1. No matter what the Treasury secretary, Wall Street, John Boehner, or anyone else says, opposing an increase in the debt ceiling will be the easiest position for most members of Congress to take. Remember: 7 out of every 10 voters in the U.S. say they don’t want it raised. This includes a majority of Democrats and substantial majorities of Republicans and independents.
  2. This almost certainly means that most representatives and senators will need to vote against a debt ceiling bill at least once so that they have something on the record showing their constituents that they were with them.
  3. Forecasts of a crisis will then allow enough members to vote for a debt ceiling increase.
  4. This likely means that the debt ceiling won’t be raised until at least a month after the current borrowing limit has been reached and the situation appears to be getting desperate.
  5. Congressional leaders, especially the Democrats, should recognize this and get this first vote over with as soon as possible. Yes, it will be taken by some (especially international financial markets that typically overreact to political developments in the U.S. because they don’t understand the theater) as an indication that the debt ceiling won’t be raised, but the sooner this first vote is taken and the bill is defeated, the sooner the serious work on getting past this largely meaningless point in the budget debate can get started.
  6. The GOP plan to tie substantial spending cuts to a debt ceiling increase isn’t likely to work because, as the poll shows, many of the reductions will be even more unpopular than than increasing the government’s borrowing limit.
  7. If actual spending cuts won’t work, expect a budget process change of some kind — something that promises change without actually changing anything — to be included in the debt ceiling increase bill. There’s a precedent for this: Gramm-Rudman-Hollings was adopted in 1985 as an amendment to a debt ceiling increase.

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About Stan Collender 126 Articles

Affiliation: Qorvis Communications

Stan Collender is a former New Yorker who, after getting a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to Washington to get it out of his system. That was more than 30 years ago.

During most of his career, Collender has worked on the federal budget and congressional budget process, including stints on the staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees; founding the Federal Budget Report, a newsletter that was published for almost two decades; and for the past 11 years writing a weekly column for and now

He is currently a managing director for Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with and for financial services clients.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

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