The Debt Ceiling And The Partisan Mind

by Jonathan Chait | July 25, 2011

In reference to my previous argument about how sheer partisan animus complicates any debt ceiling agreement, consider the sample case of Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post conservative blogger. Rubin is the paradigmatic case of a conservative whose positions on these issues is driven almost entirely by partisan heuristics. Today, for instance, she spits contempt upon Harry Reid's plan to pair a debt ceiling hike with $2.7 trillion in spending cuts and no revenue increases:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is devising a sham that will never pass muster in the House. A Capitol Hill source with knowledge of the plan tells me: “It includes $1.2 trillion in OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations] savings . . . which was assumed anyway, $1.2 trillion (over $1.1 trillion less than [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor identified in the Biden talks) and $300 billion in interest savings.” A Senate aide says dryly that Reid “has about a trillion in ‘savings’ from ending the war in Iraq that’s already going to end.” And a disgusted House adviser bluntly tells me that Reid’s plan “isn’t real.”

Okay, so her view is that Reid's plan is phony because it includes savings from drawing own the Afghanistan war. You know who else had a budget that included those exact same savings? Paul Ryan. Here's Rubin defending Ryan against the accusation of budget gimmickry. Here she is imploring him to run for president.

A couple weeks ago, Mitch McConnell leaked to Rubin a plan to hike the debt ceiling with no deficit reduction at all. Here's Rubin defending that plan to the hilt.

Can you think of any reason why Reid's plan would be terrible and McConnell's plan wonderful? McConnell's plan does require two extra votes in Congress, though nobody has even pretended to come up with an actual public policy rationale for that (as opposed to a partisan rationale.) I suppose Rubin could concoct one if need be. But that still leaves the matter of Reid requiring $2.7 trillion in cuts, and McConnell requiring zero. Now, $1.2 trillion of those cuts are indeed a gimmick, just as they were in Ryan's budget. But that still leaves $1.5 trillion in spending cuts. That's a lot of money! Is the Republican goal of forcing two extra debt ceiling votes really more valuable than those cuts? Can anybody possibly imagine that if Reid had proposed McConnell's plan, and McConnell had proposed Reid's plan, that Rubin would still hold the same position on the two proposals?

(In case you're wondering about my own view, I'd take Reid's deal but I prefer McConnell's.)

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/92599/the-debt-ceiling-and-the-partisan-mind