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April 19, 2014

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With debt ceiling decisions will come consequences — practical and political

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

Shelley Berkley

Shelley Berkley

Lawmakers face an existential choice over the nation’s existential crisis, posed by the threat of default and the debt limit.

Their choice is between the practical and the political.

Republican and Democratic leaders say the crisis is real, and that the debt limit needs to be raised by Aug. 2 if the United States wants to keep its credit rating.

Three-quarters of Americans think raising tax revenue to enable the country to pay its debts is a smart way to solve the problem, according to a recent Gallup poll. But even with that consensus, a vote to raise the debt ceiling or raise taxes could be deadly on the campaign trail.

Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dean Heller are staring down this two-edged sword.

If they vote to increase the debt ceiling, they’ll likely get hit for it: Berkley by Republicans; Heller by Tea Party Republicans. If they vote against whatever deal emerges, they have to hope the rest of Congress goes the other way — or that the havoc the Treasury Department says will be wrought on everything from the stock markets to the family checkbook doesn’t happen — or people may blame them for the default.

Neither Berkley nor Heller has declared which way they plan to vote — there’s no plan on the table. But if you listen closely, it sounds as if Berkley is leaning toward yes, and Heller is leaning toward no.

Heller has all but made his vote conditional on Congress passing a balanced-budget amendment, which the House will consider this week but the Senate isn’t likely to pass. Most Democrats and some conservative commentators think a balanced-budget requirement, although popular in states, is little more than a recipe for disaster, and would stall the economic recovery in the name of making prudent cuts.

“We have to do it the same way a family would do it,” President Barack Obama said Friday, usurping a favorite Republican metaphor for fiscal responsibility. “A family, if they get overextended and their credit card is too high, they don’t just stop paying their bills ... we don’t stop sending our kids to college; we don’t stop fixing the boiler or the roof that’s leaking. We do things in a sensible, responsible way.”

Berkley is sticking to her line about wanting to protect Medicare and Social Security — but she has said she will listen to compromise solutions to raise the debt ceiling because: “I’m anxious to do what’s right for the country. I’ll worry about my politics later.”

If Berkley and Heller do split, it will mirror their votes last time the country was on the brink of a shutdown: Berkley voted for the compromise fiscal 2011 budget package, Heller voted against it, complaining it didn’t cut enough. The budget passed.

But this time, the president is warning, no free votes. “If a party or politician is constantly taking the position ‘my way or the highway’, constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, that we’re going to remember at the polls,” he said Friday.

His intention was to shift the political consequence away from those who will vote for a debt-limit increase and onto those who won’t. Will it work?

Republicans are pushing back, accusing the president and Democratic Party of having the “my way or the highway” position for refusing to work off the House’s budgets and proffering no competing legislation of their own.

The fallout for either decision won’t be clear until next year, after the country either defaults or doesn’t, and as candidates including Berkley and Heller determine how to summarize their choices — and those of their opponents — in a way that sells on the campaign trail.

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  1. "Lawmakers face an existential choice over the nation's existential crisis, posed by the threat of default and the debt limit.

    "Their choice is between the practical and the political."

    Demirjian -- do you actually know the meaning of "existential"?

    This manufactured "crisis" is likely to be exactly what this country needs to shake it up. Nothing about this is new or unexpected. It's more like one not worrying about all those bounced checks until the consequences hit. Until politicians don't get to spend more than what We the people put in the account, nothing will change.

    "Life begins on the other side of despair." -- Sartre

  2. Agree, Darthfrodo.

    You ask a Republican to participate in the time honored political technique called compromise nowadays, they look at you like you're nuts and don't know what that is. Not unless it's YOU that compromises. Even when they are confronted with facts and the truth, they have no earthly clue what compromise is. The warped logic they follow now is that to compromise is synonymous with defeat.

    Ask a Republican to compromise, they act like you're rearing back with a two by four, swinging away and whacking them smack dab in the kisser with it. Like it's a personal and violent attack.

    There is no doubt about it. The Republican Party has morphed into an unmanageable mess.

    The funny thing about it is they keep pointing fingers at the Democrats, saying it's their fault, not because it is, but because the Republicans are so stupid that everything is party politics. They prefer sacred party politics over actually sitting down at the negotiating table and solving problems. For some reason doing that horrifies them. They'd rather run out the room, find microphones/cameras and start exhorting "they are doing the will of the American people." And they clearly are not doing that.

    Hell, the Republicans, even in their own majority in the Congress, are so fractured they can't even collectively decide what to get on a pizza.

    Bring on the 2012 elections. I know I'm voting every Republican I can out of office. They want to follow total party politics, I can do the same and en masse vote all them knuckleheads out. Two can play the game.

  3. Let's treat pretty boy Heller the same way Republicans treat women on the campaign trail. I think he's retaing weight since he became senator because he has gone all puffy and doughy in the face. And those suits, who dresses him? You can tell the job is getting to him.