Republican Leaders Pivot to Bold New Hostage-Taking Plan for Debt Limit

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 26 2013 11:31 AM

Republican Leaders Pivot to Bold New Hostage-Taking Plan for Debt Limit

Last night National Review's Jonathan Strong scooped the list of demands House Republicans intended to make before they raised the debt limit. They marked a huge step away from the fights of 2011, in this sense: The GOP was no longer asking for spending cuts commensurate with the increased debt limit. It was willing to delay the debt limit for a year, as long as Democrats agreed to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for a year, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, approve every "jobs bill" they'd passed in the House, and so on. Everything the party wanted minus a ban on late-term abortion.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

It goes without saying that these demands do not necessarily constitute a reduction in spending that would wipe out the deficit. In the House Republican conference meeting today, 14-term Texas Rep. Joe Barton apparently objected to a debt limit punt that didn't cancel itself out with spending cuts. Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the class of 2010, agreed with that.

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"I prefer a specific dollar figure, but that's my preference," he said. "I may be in the minority, but if you do that, you have a known quantity. The spending cuts have to be enough to offset, to some degree, the long-term threat posed by these deficits. If the spending cuts are inadequate to address the long-term threat, then we increase the risk of a debilitating insolvency of the United States of America."

Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, another 2010-er, was more bullish on the debt limit "letter to Santa" approach. "Fortunately, the economy's doing better," he told me. "I think we're still committed to cuts and growth commensurate with what the increase is, but there's some actual economic growth in the energy industry, for example. Every 10th of a point we see in economic growth increases the money in the coffers and lowers the deficit."

It sounds a lot like "dynamic scoring," honestly. Republicans have argued for a long time that traditional budgeting doesn't reflect the amazing Lafferian benefits that tax cuts can bring. Instead of scoring a tax cut for what it will take out of revenue, they want it scored for its possible economic benefits.*

And apart from some holdouts, it's an easy-read hymnal. When Cantor spoke to the press, he used the same happy data as Farenthold.

"Our plan delays the implementation of Obamacare, which will help job growth and our economy while protecting people from its negative consequences," he said. "The Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated that an additional one-tenth of one-percentage point increase in economic growth will reduce the deficit by approximately $300 billion over ten years."

*Yes, the tax increases of the fiscal cliff deal have been followed by a surge of revenue, but you're not supposed to notice.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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