Friday, January 25, 2013


Because the Congressional Republicans never acquiesce, I'm suspicious of the debt ceiling deal they've floated and voted. The press, true to its fetish for agreements, no matter how awful, is happy.

Of foremost concern to me, it's not clear what's in the deal. The New York Times has reported it badly, as if it's a standard cooling off move that leaves everything unchanged for three months. To careless readers, the story looks like a debt ceiling increase:

House Republicans said Friday that they would agree to lift the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months.
and, sure enough, past debt ceiling increases are recalled with identical phrasing:
The change in tack represented a retreat for House Republicans, who were increasingly isolated in their refusal to lift the debt ceiling.
But there's no dollar amount anywhere, which ought to make everyone as suspicious as I am.

Turns out, this omission should have been central to the story, as it was in the Washington Post, for the GOP has merely agreed to suspend enforcement of the debt ceiling to a specific date:
[E]ven as House Republicans voted to suspend enforcement of the debt ceiling through May 18, their budget chairman [Paul Ryan] vowed to use the coming deadlines to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to deliver “a big down payment on the debt crisis.”
Not only did Jonathan Weisman of the Times get the mechanism wrong, he got something as simple as the time frame wrong - four months, not three.

I haven't yet figured out how the House Republicans will use the change to their negotiating advantage, but you had better believe they will. What was once a soft date that the Treasury could maneuver around is now a hard date that the Obama administration has already pledged to respect, when it announced that it would not use the Fourteenth Amendment debt guarantee to abrogate the debt ceiling statute, nor vastly expand the platinum coin authority of the Mint.

Hacks like Weisman will be back on May 17 with pressure for a deal, no matter how bad.

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