Politically-devised symbolic votes are usually just partisan garbage. The party in power in either chamber devises a vote not for the purpose of legislating but to put the minority party in a bind. Sometimes though, it’s a totally fair shot. And the minority party gets called out for a genuinely egregious hypocrisy. That’s what the Republicans are doing to the Democrats today.
The Republican strategy this summer will be to use what amounts to extortion to force massive and not particularly popular spending cuts on the White House — by refusing to allow the country to keep paying its collective mortgage unless the White House caves on various draconian spending cuts. The consequences of that defaulting — i.e., the USA for the first time in its history defaulting on its debt — are catastrophic.
In any sane system, you just pay your bills. How you borrow and spend money in the future is a separate question. In other words, the Congress should immediately pass a ‘clean’ debt ceiling bill and continue paying off the debt we’ve already incurred and then get on to a debate over fiscal policy. To use another real-world analogy, the key to getting your personal finances in order is not to stop paying the interest on your outstanding credit card balances. I assume we all get that.
In any case, today House Republicans are going to bring up just such a bill and dare the Democrats to vote ‘yes’. The political calculus will work like this. Presumably, all Republicans will vote no. And Democrats who vote ‘yes’ will set themselves up to be pilloried with ads saying “Democrat X voted to keeping on borrowing money with no spending cuts at all!”
There’s no question that ad could be damaging in some contexts, though I suspect far less damaging than people suspect. But by voting ‘no’ they will legitimate the new Republican fiscal policy of extortion and cede the moral high ground that goes with the simple maxim that a great nation should pay its bills. Always. In every case. Period. End of story.
This is one of those cases where it’s better politics to bank the coherence and consistency of voting for what you actually think is good policy than avoiding a gotcha line in a 30-second ad and surrendering your whole legislative strategy.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.