House GOP Puts Dems in a Box With Clean Debt Ceiling Vote

A "clean" vote to raise the debt ceiling without cuts in spending would be political suicide for Democrats.

By + More

The Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are about to give Democrats, President Barack Obama included, a clean vote on whether or not to raise the federal debt ceiling.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the debt limit?]

For months now, Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and congressional Democratic leaders have been demanding an increase in the debt ceiling without having to accept any preconditions like real reforms in the budget process or real limits on future federal spending. For their sins, they are getting exactly what they wanted.  What they do with it is another question entirely.

It is highly doubtful that the Democrats ever thought the GOP would give them a chance at a clean vote. Meaning they could maximize the rhetoric and political spin, accusing the Republicans of being irresponsible and bringing the nation dangerously close to default without the rubber ever meeting the road. By giving the Democrats what they demanded, the GOP is putting them between the proverbial rock and hard place. [See a slide show of 6 consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised.]

A new poll released Monday finds that nine out of every 10 voters opposes an increase in the debt ceiling unless it is married to meaningful reductions in federal spending.

The survey, conducted jointly by Resurgent Republic and the American Action Forum, asked voters to determine which of these two statements they agreed with most:

  • Congressman A says that Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling, because it is the only responsible thing to do. Tying the debt increase to spending cuts is just a political move by politicians who do not want to raise taxes on the wealthy.
  • Congressman B says that any increase in the federal debt limit should be tied to specific cuts in federal spending. We have got to stop spending money we don't have.
  • The results are quite remarkable. Among Democratic voters, by 50 to 42 percent, the winning position is the one that ties any debt limit increase to spending cuts (and by 31 to 26 percent among those who strongly agree). Yet in Congress, the prevailing position among Democrats is for a clean debt ceiling bill with, based on previous voting patterns, six out of 10 Democratic House members holding that position. [See a slide show of 6 ways to raise the debt ceiling.]

    Getting what they want could be political suicide, at least in the short term.  By 64 to 31 percent, self-described independents say any debt limit increase should include spending cuts (and by 37 to 18 percent among those who strongly agree).

    Independents, it should be recalled, provided the margins that helped Obama win by such a big margin in 2008 and helped the GOP do so well in 2010.  For them, the most popular position (49 percent) is raising the debt limit but only "in exchange for substantial spending cuts and a commitment to reduce the deficit." [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

    It is clear that most Americans realize “the clean vote” is the one that ensures the nation remains on its current path toward an economic apocalypse. Their bluff having been called, the administration and congressional Democrats will now be forced to act in a way that runs counter to their political fortunes as well as the country’s best interests.

    • See a slide show of 6 ways to raise the debt ceiling.
    • See a slide show of 6 consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised.
    • Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the debt limit?
    • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.