Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s recent comments to a small group of new media members about the debt-limit deal raises a very important question: Why was there never an attempt to pass a no-strings-attached bill to increase the debt limit?
This seems to have been the logical next step during the latter stages of the tense negotiation process.
To Pelosi’s credit, she was much more forthright than politicians typically are, especially after a major defeat. Pelosi did not attempt to spin the passage of the bill as a good thing or even an unpleasant (but necessary) compromise. Instead, she effectively stated that she thinks the big cuts will slow the economy and that the bill wasn’t a good path to take.
Pelosi ultimately believed, however, that passing this undesirable bill was a better option than default. While that is true on the surface, default was not the only other option. A clean debt-ceiling bill seems to have been a viable–and obvious–recourse.
Majority Leader John Boehner simply did not have the 218 Republican votes needed to pass the cuts-only bill because the radical right of his party (Tea Party) thought the bill was not radical enough. Because of that, Pelosi needed to rally the unenthusiastic Democratic troops to get the bill passed.
However, it would have been equally plausible to allow the bill to die and immediately replace it with a simple, clean bill (no spending cuts and no revenue increases). This is the common practice when the debt ceiling needs to be raised; it is not an extreme idea, and it would not have been risky despite the radical right’s influence on the debate.
Perhaps Pelosi was concerned that Boehner would not allow the minority Democrats to bring a new bill to the floor. That’s a legitimate concern, but would that have been the case if the new bill were all that stood between Boehner and default? Boehner’s Wall Street friends would not have been happy. (Tea Partiers are not his only friends!) Besides, even if the new bill couldn’t have started in the House, it could have started in the Senate.
Wall Street favorite Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had already admitted weeks earlier that a clean debt-ceiling bill was better than default. He would made certain that there was no filibuster, and the bill would have passed the Senate, where Wall Street’s influence is greater than the Tea Party’s (and only a couple of Republican defections would have been needed to get 51 votes).
Regardless of where the bill started, Pelosi would have had no problem getting the 192 House Democrats to support a clean bill. And with Wall Street’s strong influence on the Republican party, dozens of Republicans House members would have voted to avert disaster (only 26 were needed).
The Democrats let roughly 100 Tea Party radicals intimidate, dominate, and dictate the political process, but Wall Street would not have, especially in the Senate where the Tea Party is a small player compared to Wall Street.
A complication in the process was President Obama’s persistent attempt to cut approximately $4 trillion from the debt through a more balanced approach (although it was heavily weighted toward cuts, not increases in revenue). Obama believed that the huge debt-reduction package was necessary to prevent the lowering of the U.S. credit rating.
Any possibility of averting a credit reduction ended, however, when Boehner ended negotiations on the big deal a week earlier. The credit rating was officially lowered on Friday.
A clean debt-ceiling bill was within reach. It was simply another Democratic-versus-Republican staring contest. And the Democrats blinked first.
What else is new?