Tackling the debt ceiling incrementally

TACKLING THE DEBT CEILING INCREMENTALLY…. There’s no doubt that policymakers have to raise the debt ceiling. The question in recent months is what kind of ransom Republicans will expect in exchange for them doing their duty.

But that’s not the only question. The assumption has been that Congress and the White House would raise the debt limit by a large enough amount to cover the annual deficit. Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the House Budget Committee, told ABC News today that Republicans may consider a more piecemeal approach.

As for one of the next big battles, Lankford said one of the strategies being discussed surrounding the debt ceiling would have Congress authorize only a relatively small increase, to force spending questions to come to the fore again soon if sufficient cuts aren’t made to federal spending.

“There are a couple different strategies being talked about. One is keep it low and so we can come back repetitively and keep this in check. And the other one is do a larger piece,” he said. “Obviously the president doesn’t want to face the Congress that much and so he wants a bigger one. Congress is willing to say, you know … let’s only do it a little bit a time. We’ll have to see where we land.”

The only thing worse than watching policymakers fight over the debt ceiling is watching policymakers fight over the debt ceiling every couple of months.

It’s a recipe for, among other things, (cue scary music) uncertainty. Indeed, playing incremental games with the ability of the country to pay its bills sends a pretty loud signal to foreign countries and markets around the globe: there are just enough children in positions of authority in Congress to cause genuine concern about the nation’s finances.

The details of this strategy are not yet available, but it’s not hard to imagine how the process would play out — Republicans would agree to raise the limit a little in exchange for some concessions. Then repeat. Then repeat again. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we saw the same dynamic in February and March — Republicans agreed to fund the government in two-week increments, in exchange for $2 billion in spending cuts per week.

How long would the congressional GOP intend to pursue the “slow-bleed” strategy? Again, we don’t know, but if they can trade for concessions at every step, I imagine they’ll drag it out as long as possible.

It’ll undermine economic stability, create uncertainty, and make the country look ridiculous in the eyes of the world, but then again, that’s pretty routine for Republicans anyway.