It has often been said that good public policy makes good politics. These words could not be truer about Speaker John Boehner's bold move to go on the offense and offer to address the debt ceiling increase now instead of waiting until around the election.
The speaker's demand that the federal government offset any increase with greater spending cuts and reforms creates a debate that favors Republicans and gives them the high ground. He is successfully framing the discussion on how best to tackle our economic problems that will grow louder as November approaches.
The move places President Obama and the White House in an awkward position of defending the status quo of Washington. Just look at what happened between Obama and congressional leaders as they met over lunch at the White House. The speaker's office released these comments:
In a discussion of the debt limit, the Speaker--who has warned that the growing debt is hurting U.S. job creation--asked the President if he is proposing that Congress pass an increase that does not include any spending cuts to help reduce the deficit. The President said, "yes." The Speaker told the President, "as long as I'm around here, I'm not going to allow a debt ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt.
Pouring quick cement around this play, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he does not support Boehner's condition, saying he hoped Washington could raise the debt ceiling "without the drama and the pain and the damage" of last year. Interpretation: Democrats want more spending without answering to voters and dealing with the consequences of an election.
As dueling campaign commercials from the Obama and Romney camps have unleashed over jobs, Boehner is injecting congressional Republicans into the conversation over the economy well before the election. While the debt ceiling fight won't likely be solved until the lame duck session, it creates an added referendum on the president's inability to turn the economy around.
Mitt Romney is only helped by this effort. The White House will be forced to deal with Boehner in this economic game of conversational ping-pong while Romney remains a Beltway outsider. Romney will likely have opportunities to talk about growing jobs and fiscal restraint and changing the way Washington operates. He will also have the opportunity contrast himself with Obama's negotiating style and can point fingers at the lack of progress from the White House and the Democratic Senate majority.
The Democratic Party is already falling into the trap of talking about the process. Some are saying that the Republicans are acting unfairly and not honoring the previous debt ceiling dealing agreement. "It is pretty galling for Speaker Boehner to be laying down demands for another debt ceiling agreement when he won't even abide by the last one," Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said.
In the same breath, they will also call Republicans extremist right-wing ideologues that are out to ruin the country and the middle class. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "Republicans can grandstand all they want, the fact is any agreement to avoid a fiscal cliff facing us at the end of this year must not gut programs that support the middle class."
These arguments won't work with voters who care more about improving the economy than partisan warfare and political process language. The political party that initiates and dominates the conversation over how to grow jobs and turn the economy around will be rewarded in November.