Precedents: guess who threatened not to raise the debt ceiling in 2009?


by digby

In case there remains any possible doubt that counting on the Democrats to hold fast against the Republican assault on the so-called entitlements is probably a fool's game, Chris Bowers is here to remind us of something that happened not quite 18 months ago that should bring us up short:

[A] whole bunch of them joined with Republicans in a threat to not raise the debt ceiling without creating a deficit commission that would make onerous cuts to entitlement programs. Yeah, that happened:
Sens. squeeze Speaker over commission
By Jared Allen and Walter Alarkon - 11/10/09 09:14 PM ET

Senators from both parties on Tuesday put new pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to turn the power to trim entitlement benefits over to an independent commission.

Seven members of the Senate Budget Committee threatened during a Tuesday hearing to withhold their support for critical legislation to raise the debt ceiling if the bill calling for the creation of a bipartisan fiscal reform commission were not attached. Six others had previously made such threats, bringing the total to 13 senators drawing a hard line on the committee legislation.

“You rarely do have the leverage to make a fundamental change,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who said he hasn’t ruled out offering the independent commission legislation as an amendment to the healthcare reform bill.(…)

“There are rare moments in this institution when you can implement fundamental change,” Bayh said during Tuesday’s hearing. “This is one of them.”(…)

“While failing to increase the debt limit is not an option, the need to raise the debt limit should be accompanied by a serious discussion about possible actions we can take to deal with our fiscal challenge,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement. “Putting in place a mechanism to deal with our long-term fiscal shortfalls, as well as legislation restoring statutory pay-go, should be a part of that discussion.”

The result of this threat was the Simpson-Bowles commission
The Democrats who joined in this threat were ---- surprise --- Sens. Conrad, Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) plus turncoat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Warner and Durbin are on the current bandwagon and I think they can easily count on Feinstein and Lieberman. Difi is running again as California's Republican senator and Lieberman will do it out of spite. So they probably have five Dems at a minimum ready to vote for slashing entitlements.

The good news is that the House Republicans are getting a face full of grief from their constituents over Medicare which probably means that the "entitlement" play will have to fall on Social Security and Medicaid. The first is likely to be as dicey as Medicare, although they feasibly could do it with a complicated formula for benefits cuts that nobody but a bunch of boring wonks will bother to understand. Medicaid could be in deep trouble if Obama decides to abandon that part of the Health care reform.

But it's not looking all that bright for the good guys. All that talk about Ryan being a "courageous" and "serious" man filled with "brio" and "guts" did its work. The country is still polarized on these issues and the GOP base still backs their extremists:

GOP's gamble on the budget pays off, so far

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that House Republicans, who took a political risk in passing a controversial budget blueprint last week, have survived so far with some key advantages intact as Congress moves toward the debate on raising the debt ceiling, passing the 2012 budget and enacting a long-term deficit plan.

Americans are evenly divided between the deficit plan proposed by President Obama and the one drafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, and those surveyed put more trust in Republicans than Democrats to handle the federal budget and the economy.

Pessimistic about the economy and the nation’s course, they overwhelmingly blame too much spending for soaring federal deficits and want to rely more on spending cuts than tax hikes to get it under control.

It would have been a whole lot easier to make the case for higher taxes if a Democratic President and a Democratic congress hadn't overwhelming extended Bush's huge tax cuts just four months ago and then run around touting their achievement like it was the equivalent of winning World War II. And joining the spending cuts bandwagon hasn't exactly helped their cause either. (But then, that assumes their cause isn't to cut entitlements and lower taxes, in which case they may very well be successful.)

All is not lost, however:

The poll also shows the perils ahead for the GOP in moving from general principles to specific actions. Two-thirds of Americans worry the Republican plan for reducing the budget deficit would cut Medicare and Social Security too much.

Ryan and other Republican House members already have faced hostile questions at town-hall-style meetings in their home districts from seniors and others about the GOP proposal to turn the nation’s health care program for the elderly into what would essentially be a voucher system. The GOP budget blueprint would overhaul Medicare, turn Medicaid into block grants for the states and trim trillions of dollars in spending on discretionary programs. It would lower tax rates for top earners and corporations.

“The bad news for the Democrats is that even after the Ryan budget comes out and has been attacked for a little while, the Republicans have an advantage,” says Joseph White, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University who studies budget politics and policy.

The Ryan budget was greeted with a huge amount of fanfare among people on all sides of the political spectrum and it took at least two weeks to begin to turn that impression around so I don't think this is an accurate description of events. The radical nature of the plan is just now starting to permeate. And the poll shows that the devil is in the details -=-- people don't like any of the specifics, so there is still a whole lot of room to maneuver.

Unfortunately, the danger lies with the congress, particularly in the House of Lords, where a majority is on record wanting to get this done, come what may. With the Village, as usual, portraying defiance of the will of the people (who are commonly referred to as lazy and stupid because they just don't understand how important it is for them to sacrifice their futures and well-being in order to soothe the sore feelings of the wealthy) as "courageous" this is a bigger lift than it would be in a functioning democracy.