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Casualties of Debt-Ceiling Messaging War: The American People

by Douglas Kellogg / /

As legislation, plans, vague thoughts, and potentialpremonitions fly around Congress the closer we get to the latest ‘can’t miss’date to extend the debt ceiling, there has been much discussion over who iswinning and losing the messaging war. Unfortunately, the American people seemto be the real losers, as the traditional Washington game of scoring politicalpoints in the eyes of the media trumps passing legislation for budget reformsthat would ensure this sorry spectacle will never be seen again.

What would have been a tough fight anyway, as the newlyelected House Republican majority tried to fulfill promises to the electorateon containing spending, was turned into a circus, as much of the mediajumped into the ring clamoringfor tax increases in the name of “balance.”

Let us remember that the initial plan from Treasury and theWhite House was: raise the debt ceiling, period. There were no sweepingblueprints to address our budget problems coming from the President. In fact,as an NTUFoundation analysis showed, the President’s budget proposal would keep the redink flowing.

Republicans thus viewed the debt ceiling as a chance tocompromise with the President and Harry Reid: we’ll go ahead and raise your borrowingcapacity if you make some long-term budget reforms.

Considering this is the stage the players walked on to, itis logical to see the President and Senate Democrats’ last-minute maneuveringas primarily political, as they search for ways to avoid meaningful budgetreform and keep running up the credit card.

This is where the media comes in. Republicans at worst canbe called naïve for thinking that this dire crisis warrants a serious legislativeproposal. They didn’t appreciate the sheer force with which the media would tryto dismiss their plan and instead hail from every mountaintop a completelyunfinished “not readyfor prime time” tax hike plan. All this, despite the fact that 1) The debtcrisis has everything to do with the Administration driving up annual spendingby $1 trillion, and 2) 66%of the public supports the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” approach.

The media orthodoxy over the debt ceiling has held that it’sall about tax hikes or “revenue raisers.” Again, this is not the problem thatneeds solving -- and if it really is all about revenues, they are due to naturallyrise IF we create jobs and move out of the recession, something tax increaseswill hinder. Everyone from BillO’Reilly to ChrisMatthews has called for a “balanced approach” that will likely hold backjob growth and provide uncertain short-term spending reductions. Yet, the Cut,Cap, and Balance plan that will guarantee long-term spending stability (youknow, actually solving the problem weare all fretting over) is pushed aside. 

Once the ‘Gang of Six’ plan emerged, the media dutifullyhopped on board, despite the fact it is neither a plan nor ready for a vote onthe debt ceiling. Even the DailyKos expressed confusion as to how such an undefined plan could earninstantaneous support.

The timing of this was eerily helpful if the Democrats wantedto avoid dealing with Cut, Cap, and Balance head-on. Perhaps that is becausemany of them have professedsupport for a Balanced Budget Amendment in the past, or perhaps it isbecause they do not want to vote against the only piece of legislation that resolvesthe crisis they are now using as an excuse to raise taxes (never let a crisisgo to waste).

Too large a portion of the media helped provide cover forthis new plan at the expense of Cut, Cap, and Balance, calling CCB “ill-fated” immediatelyupon passage, and seemingly doing their level best to make Senatedefeat a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who can forget CNN anchor ContessaBrewer chastisinga sitting Member of Congress for failing to bow to the opinion of the people weare all supposed to listen to? Really, how many times have we all heard thatCCB passed the House, but ‘heads to the Senate where it will fail’? 

Yes, the Democrats, holding the majority in the Senate, endedup tabling the bill. But treating it as a foregone conclusion is at worst anagenda-driven disservice to the people, and at best a sign that SenateDemocrats would rather fail to meet Geithner’s deadline, and enter into an apparentapocalypse, than avoid such disaster with a conservative oriented plan.

Also, keep in mind that a Balanced Budget Amendment does nothave to earn the President’s approval, so it is particularly effective in lightof the split government – at least if Democrats professing support for it liveup to their word.

Ultimately, this is all a disturbing sign that much of themedia is promoting an agenda, or at best not presenting the full spectrum offacts and options. That does not let the parties off the hook however, andRepublicans bear responsibility when their own members undermine clear,effective legislation with vague, backroom ‘plans.’

Now is the time for taxpayers to get active and demand thattheir agenda is not passed over simply because media, or backroom dealers, wishto avoid curing our nation’s spending addiction. Any solution other than Cut,Cap, and Balance will guarantee this issue arises again – if the ultimate dealis short-term, that will happen much sooner. Either way, our unsustainable debtwill not be contained by weak measures that lack the spending controls of Cut,Cap, and Balance. That is why NTU, and all Americans concerned with stabilizingour nation’s finances, will continue to fight for such measures.