Paying the Bills

In his press conference this morning the president continued making an argument about the debt limit that is simple and quite interesting if you think about it:

He objected to the characterization of a debt ceiling increase as analogous to more government spending. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has demanded a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar the debt ceiling is raised.

“The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending,” Obama said. “Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. it simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already agreed to.”

Republicans (and many fiscal hawks in both parties) are deeply in the habit of employing the false and dangerous analogy of family financing for its descriptions of America’s fiscal problems: when you are struggling to pay your credit card bills, you have to stop using them–maybe even cut them up. Holding a debt limit increase hostage to spending reduction demands–or more accurately, to the demand that Democrats identify and support domestic spending reductions so as to provide bipartisan “cover” for a strategic strike on the “Welfare State”–is analogized to this brave but necessary and above all responsible approach to national profligacy.

Obama is seeking to promote a different and much more technically accurate analogy: threatening to deny a debt limit increase, regardless of the rationale, is like refusing to pay those credit card bills altogether. And that’s difficult to characterize as “responsible,” particularly when business leaders are denouncing the ploy in steadily more strident tones.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.