The Wimpy Tactic

On the face of it, Speaker Boehner’s insistence on getting dollar-for-dollar spending cuts to go with a debt ceiling increase looks like a fine idea. But as the negotiations stall, the weakness is revealed:

But Kyl said the GOP would look to a shorter-term increase in the debt ceiling if the talks fail to produce more than $2.5 trillion in cuts.

“If we can’t get about two and a half trillion in real savings, then I don’t think there’d be much of an appetite on our side to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Kyl said the spending cuts could take effect over 10 years or more.

It reminds me more than a little of Middle East peace talks. Israel is pressured to give up something tangible and permanent — land — in exchange for something intangible and fleeting — nicer behavior from its neighbors. The GOP seems to have fallen into the same trap. If they only agree to raise the debt ceiling by some number of trillions today, the Democrats will agree to cuts in their pet giveaway programs over the course of the next decade.

The new debt is as real as a stubbed toe. But those cuts can be undone by any future congress.

No. What’s needed is a grand bargain — Medicare must be reformed into premium support, Medicaid needs to become block grants to the states, and Social Security changes need to be made to make it solvent again. Means testing, retirement age increases — everything. Those changes would be much harder to undo than ephemeral “cuts” scheduled to take place someday, sometime, maybe.

“I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” is a losing proposition. The burger tastes great for the Democrats today, but Tuesday never comes for the Republicans. Yet that’s how the GOP seems determined to play it. Which is why I fear we’ll have to crash everything and hurt everybody before Washington removes its boot from our throats.

Wake up, Mr. Speaker — you’re being taken for a fool.