In the winter of 1995-1996 there was a death with repercussions lasting a decade. The deceased was the Newt Gingrich Republican Revolution.
It was a self-inflicted wound. The weapon used to commit suicide was the shutting down of government for days, used as a GOP bludgeon in arguments over the budget. So angered were the voters that in the next election cycle, Bill Clinton was re-elected easily.
In 2011, the GOP used the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip again and the economy took a measurable dip. In 2013, the debt ceiling, continuation of the resolution to fund government, sequestered spending cuts, and raising the debt limit unite in a perfect storm of entangled issues in March. The GOP should know from past experience if they overplay their hand, they risk a public backfire and a dent in economic growth.
The compromise avoiding the fiscal cliff on Jan. 2, also delayed debate on sequestered spending cuts for 60 days. The GOP is threatening to use disapproval of raising the debt limit and shutting down government as bargaining chips to get their way. They think they have a hot one, too. Hot, indeed.
What they may have done is set up the possibility of some of the most important Supreme Court decisions of the past 125 years, addressing the fundamental question of the separation of powers. Just how far does the GOP want to take their "leverage?" Are we now headed for a constitutional crisis, too? Do they really want to default on our loans if we do not raise the debt ceiling and imperil the economy to get their way over the debt ceiling? A wiser Newt Gingrich called this strategy a "dead loser" last week. Or is this just more brinkmanship bluffing?
While not precluding reduction in spending or more revenue enhancement, the president made it clear in remarks Jan. 2 he would not allow the GOP to use the debt ceiling to get their way on future spending cuts. The president staked his legal claim that Congress voted for the expenditures and he had the obligation to pay bills as they came due. That is indeed a major constitutional issue the Supreme Court could decide: Can Congress keep him from his duty as the executive branch to pay bills Congress had already authorized?
The president could also choose to tap the 14th Amendment, daring the GOP sue him and throw the issue to the Supreme Court. The president could continue to make good on payments on bonds (treasury notes) even if Congress forbids him from doing it. At issue is the 14th Amendment to the Constitution regarding the executive's power to pay bonds as they came due. Legal experts are divided so the outcome could be risky for both parties.
The question is not whether the debt problem should be tackled: Both the GOP and the Democrats know it must happen to avoid a credit rating downgrade or future economic problems. The issue is how. That "entitlements" need trimming is also acknowledged by both sides of the aisle and the Pentagon budget also needs close scrutiny. It is a matter of coming up with ways acceptable to a bipartisan coalition large enough to get it through Congress.
The GOP is laboring under a questionable belief they have the public mandate because they were re-elected to be the majority in the House. Some 2011 gerrymandering resulting in more safe districts for conservatives may have been greater factors. Public opinion polls in November 2012 showed more than 60 percent supporting balanced taxing and cuts. Public opinion also counted in the mid-90s when the GOP shut down government and the Republicans paid the price in the next election.