Much of the spring and summer of 2011 was dominated by the showdown between President Obama and Congressional Republicans over whether and how the nation’s debt ceiling would be raised, with some Republicans vowing to oppose any increase in the nation’s borrowing limit and others even extolling the virtues of a national default on our obligations.
While the current statutory debt limit should be high enough to avoid another dramatic conflict until after the presidential election, the issue of the debt ceiling has now come up in the most unlikely of places: the GOP presidential primary.
With his own candidacy on the ropes, Mitt Romney is now attempting to use Rick Santorum’s past votes in favor of raising the debt ceiling in the hopes of slowing down Santorum’s surging campaign. On no fewer than eight occasions since February 6, the Romney campaign blasted out press releases attacking Santorum for his debt ceiling votes. The attack was leveled directly by Romney himself, his spokeswoman Andrea Saul, and two top surrogates, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
It’s worth noting that last June, Romney signed a pledge sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that actually said the U.S. should not raise the debt ceiling and default on its obligations unless both houses of Congress passed a destructive balanced budget amendment and sent it to the states. In the end, slightly less radical elements of the Republican party prevailed and the debt ceiling was raised upon pain of deep spending cuts (and with neither chamber having approved a constitutional balanced budget amendment).
Ironically, Romney’s own fiscal plan would necessitate large increases in the debt ceiling, in addition to those that will be necessary anyway in order to avoid defaulting on our current obligations. Despite its deep spending cuts (including to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), his plan’s $6.6 trillion in tax cuts weighted toward the wealthy and corporations ensures that we’ll continue to run large deficits in perpetuity.
Until Republicans perfected the art of hostage-taking during the present Congress, raising the debt ceiling was a routine matter. In fact, 130 Republicans currently in Congress voted to raise it at least one of the five times it was increased during the presidency of George W. Bush, including some who have endorsed Romney. Even the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol has questioned Romney’s “juvenile” debt ceiling attack on Santorum:
Santorum voted to raise the debt limit! (Along with every virtually other Republican when the GOP controlled the Senate-and does Romney think they shouldn’t have raised the debt limit?)
One is left to assume that Romney is either playing a cynical political game with this attack, or, based on his attacks on Santorum and the pledge he signed last year, take him at his word and conclude that he actually does oppose further increases in the debt ceiling barring the highly unlikely passage of a sure-to-be disastrous constitutional balanced budget amendment.