This time, Democrats, who can still make mischief when they have a few deficit-phobic Republicans on their side, want to force the majority to take responsibility for increasing the public debt. They want a public vote. (The issue has grown so toxic that even cloaking it in the flag hasn't worked. Last week, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, tried—and ultimately failed—to attach to the war-spending bill a measure raising the debt ceiling by nearly $900 billion.)
Until now, the White House and Congressional leaders have struck a sort of bargain. If you play ostrich, we will too—burying their heads in the sand of Iraq. The White House doesn't remind Congress of its obligations at a time when we have soldiers in the field, and the Republican leaders don't ask the president—who in his State of the Union address assured the public he would not "pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations"—exactly how he plans to pay for all this. As a result, the ceiling stays in place, the Treasury secretary takes evasive action, and staffers eagerly await the mail each day, hoping that enough tax payments arrive to delay the debt reckoning for a few months.