Escalating an avoidable economic crisis, House Republicans are intent on driving the nation to the financial brink at the behest of their most extreme members. The deadline for raising the debt ceiling or risking financial calamity in a shaky economy is a week from today, yet compromise is a dirty word in Washington. President Barack Obama spoke to the nation Monday night and embraced a proposal by Senate Democrats to break the impasse. As disappointing as that scaled-down plan is, the House Republicans' two-step proposal is worse.
It should not have come to such unpalatable choices. Republican House Speaker John Boehner scuttled the talks Friday over an ambitious package that would have cut spending and increased revenues by $4 trillion while raising the government's debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, or enough for Washington to pay its bills until 2013. The proposal was a serious attempt to reform the tax code and rein in entitlement spending, and it would have put liberal Democrats on the hook as much as the tea party movement that has effective control of House Republicans. But the speaker showed again he is a leader in name only and walked away. Now, with the prospect of a default only seven days away, the choices on the table are between flawed and foolish.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled a Democratic plan Monday that would cut spending by $2.7 trillion in the next decade and extend the government's borrowing authority through next year. The package, like one Boehner also proposed Monday, takes new revenue off the table in another concession to the House's intransigence. But Boehner's plan would extend the government's debt capacity only temporarily and force Obama to seek an extension from Congress during the 2012 election season. It would tie any new debt to tax increases and spending cuts that would be developed by a new congressional commission. Boehner also wants the House and Senate to vote on a balanced budget amendment — a blunt instrument that is not in the nation's best interests and would cripple its ability to respond to economic crises.
Poll after poll shows that Americans want a balanced package of revenue increases and spending cuts. The financial markets also want the certainty of a long-term debt deal, not a stopgap measure that revives this same circus in the heat of an election campaign. Even if the two sides cut a deal before the Aug. 2 deadline, the impasse may cause a downgrade of the nation's credit rating, which could raise the price of borrowing. House Republicans are steadfast in opposing higher taxes on the wealthy. But they are fine with a back-door tax in the form of higher consumer costs for millions of Americans across the board.
The president, congressional Democrats and what moderates remain in the Republican caucus need to come together quickly on a clean, substantive bill. The White House threw its support behind the Reid plan, calling it a "meaningful down payment" in controlling the debt and a "reasonable" step Congress and the administration could build on in any larger effort to close tax loopholes and curtail spending. In reality, the fallback plan is a measurement of how irresponsible House Republicans — including those in the Tampa Bay area — have been in blocking all attempts at consensus and compromise. The president, the Senate and the American people should not give in to their extremist approach.