Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Debt Ceiling Increase Is Dirtier Than Reported

By Mike Dorf

The big news yesterday was that the House voted to raise the debt ceiling, thus, in the breathless front page reporting of the NY Times, "ending three years of brinksmanship." That pronouncement is premature for at least three reasons.

(1) The bill must still clear the Senate, where Ted Cruz is threatening a filibuster. That threat has some credibility, with the likes of Mitch McConnell--who, until now, could be counted as a vote for sanity--facing a Tea Party primary challenge. True, Harry Reid and the Democrats could extend filibuster reform to cover ordinary legislation, and avoiding global economic catastrophe seems like as good an immediate reason as any. But with Democrats worrying about what will happen when they're next in the minority, further filibuster reform is not guaranteed.

(2) Even if the Senate passes the House bill (with or without filibuster reform), it only extends the debt ceiling to March of next year. So in a year we'll be right back where we are now.

(3) Actually, we may not be back where we are but somewhere worse. Given the narrow margin of passage for the clean bill this time, if the Republicans pick up a few House seats in November's midterms--which is historically what the non-Presidential party does--then there may not be enough votes for a clean bill next time, even if the Hastert "rule" is completely abandoned again. Indeed, it's possible that this year's clean bill will cost John Boehner the Speakership in 2015, and that the new Speaker might not allow a clean bill to come to the floor, even if it would pass with mostly Democratic votes plus a few Republican votes.

Bottom Line: Reports of the debt ceiling's demise are, alas, exaggerated.