Jackie Calmes: Republicans Don't Understand How Important Increasing Debt Limit Is

In her lead story Wednesday, "Pressing Obama, House Bars Rise For Debt Ceiling," Jackie Calmes accused Republicans of not understanding the debt limit while softening Democratic calls for higher taxes by portraying the Democrats as merely seeking "higher revenues."

The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a measure to increase the government's debt limit, acting on a vote staged by Republican leaders to pressure President Obama to agree to deep spending cuts.

Republicans brought up the measure, which was defeated 318 to 97, to show the lack of support in the House for raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling without concrete steps to rein in chronic budget deficits.

The preordained outcome followed several acts of odd political theater on the House floor: Republicans urged the defeat of their own measure, while Democrats - who not long ago were seeking just such a vote to raise the debt ceiling without attaching spending cuts - assailed Republicans for bringing it up, saying its certain defeat might unnerve the financial markets.

Calmes consulted a Democrat for his financial market wisdom. It was no surprise he concluded the Republican scheme to be "risky."

Investors have grown accustomed to partisan games of chicken that always end with the needed increase in the government's borrowing authority. But this showdown, many say, is riskier because of the strongly held antispending, antitax views of the many freshman House Republicans combined with the fragility of the economic recovery.

"The people who are more politically savvy realize this may not be the normal brinkmanship," said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. Nor, he added, is this standoff like the fight a few months ago over the current year's spending, which ended with a late-night deal shortly before the government would have shut down.


The chief wild card is the House Republican majority, which was elected last November after a campaign defined by voters' antipathy toward budget deficits. More numerous than the insurgents elected in the conservative waves of 1980 and 1994, many freshman Republicans have no experience in public office and consider themselves citizen-legislators who entered government to shrink it, regardless of the political costs.

Calmes, whose coverage often slants in favor of Democrats, then suggested Republicans are ignorant on the debt issue.

Many Republicans have also made comments indicating that they do not understand or do not care that an increase in the debt limit is needed not only for new spending but also to cover Social Security checks, military pay and myriad other obligations previously agreed to, as well as for payments to creditors holding Treasury bonds.

Another difference from recent decades, when the parties several times agreed to bipartisan budget-cutting deals to raise the debt limit, is the scale of spending cuts that Republicans are demanding as the price of support - up to $2 trillion in savings over a decade.

For Republicans and Democrats to agree this summer on such a far-reaching deficit reduction plan is a hurdle that is all the higher given how far apart the parties are. Republicans oppose any new taxes while Democrats say a balanced package must include higher revenues.

Note Calmes' convenient switch of terms: Democrats don't want to raise taxes, merely gain "higher revenues." She has a habit of softening her terminology to benefit the Democratic argument. On April 11 she wrote that while the GOP planned a "shrinking of Medicare and Medicaid," the Democrats were merely looking for "savings":

The Republican plan includes a shrinking of Medicare and Medicaid and trillions of dollars in tax cuts, while sparing defense spending. Mr. Obama, by contrast, envisions a more comprehensive plan that would include tax increases for the richest taxpayers, cuts to military spending, savings in Medicare and Medicaid, and unspecified changes to Social Security.