Debt Ceiling Russian Roulette

Sometime in the next few weeks we are going to find out whether the Republicans who assumed control in the House and increased their influence in the Senate are responsible, sober-minded stewards of the Republic or escapees from a loony bin. A vote to raise the debt ceiling is in the offing and there appears to be a sizable segment of the GOP -- especially the newly minted Tea Party members -- who wish to run screaming toward a gasoline dump with a lit stick of dynamite clenched in their teeth.

Their plan is to literally blow the world up and watch it burn by refusing to vote to raise the debt ceiling.

I will say at the top that there is a monumental difference between using the debt limit vote to wring concessions from Obama and the Democrats on spending, and the monstrously idiotic idea of opposing the increase in the first place. The Democrats will scream about holding the government "hostage" but it is nothing of the sort -- just good, old-fashioned hardball politics, played to the hilt for the highest stakes imaginable: the solvency and surety of the U.S. economy.

For four years the Democrats had the majority, with historic margins of control for the last two. They have failed miserably to manage the people's purse. No one is arguing that the Republicans are blameless in creating the mess we're in. But the Democrats were given a chance to address the problem and, after four years of record spending, were found utterly lacking. In fact, they didn't even try.

Incredibly, rather than addressing our fiscal woes, they acted in a manner that suggested a sneering condescension toward taxpayers and a flippant disregard for prudent, practical, responsible governance. Wild, out-of-control schemes to "remake America" with the passage of "historic" legislation, while grasping with both hands for control of private companies and the intimacies of citizens' lives, have left the United States in a perilous plight: the real prospect of insolvency and default.

The Democrats do not want to make the cuts necessary to save us from our own profligacy. The pitiful sums the Republicans are talking about cutting from the FY 2011 budget -- $50 billion or so as of this writing -- are more symbolic than real. With the deficit expected to top $1.3 trillion, $50 billion is about on par with spitting into a four-alarm fire. And yet, we have a promise from Harry Reid that the Senate won't consider such draconian cuts, and President Obama will never sign any such legislation.

What then, should be done? The only viable weapon at the Republicans' command is their ability to threaten Armageddon by holding up the vote on raising the debt ceiling until the Democrats join them in addressing the root of the problem: unsustainable entitlement spending. Cutting non-defense discretionary spending -- about 18% of the $3.7 trillion budget -- won't even come close to addressing the crisis. Only with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads represented by a failure to raise the debt ceiling will both parties be forced to come to grips with our fiscal nightmare.

Threatening catastrophe and deliberately acting so that it occurs are two entirely different animals. The difference may be subtle, but forcing the issue of cutting spending by leaving open the possibility that a vote to raise the debt ceiling will fail is a far cry from embracing the horror in its totality and deliberately voting to destroy the economy.