‘Potent’ for whom?

‘POTENT’ FOR WHOM?…. Tomorrow morning will be fairly busy on the Senate floor. Around 8 a.m. (ET), the chamber will vote up or down on health care reform. Soon after, members will vote to increase the legal debt limit to $12.4 trillion.

It was part of a deal struck by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell yesterday, and both got something in exchange. Reid wins by expediting the schedule, and McConnell wins by securing a debate he perceives as a winner for Republicans.

The temporary increase [in the federal debt limit] is projected to get the Treasury through another two months. In exchange, Republicans won the right to stage a full debate on the debt limit in late January, when lawmakers will have to approve an even larger increase to accommodate record deficits.

Republicans view the soaring national debt as a potent political issue heading into the 2010 congressional elections and want to use a lengthy Senate debate to focus attention on the issue just as Obama is preparing to address Congress and unveil his second budget request.

That Republicans consider the national debt a “potent political issue” continues to strike me as fascinating. In 2001, the deficit had been eliminated, and the United States had begun paying down the debt for the first time in a generation. The notorious “debt clocks” had to be turned off — they hadn’t been programmed to run backwards.

After eight years of Republican efforts, $5 trillion had been added to the debt, and a massive surplus had become a $1.3 trillion deficit. At this point, nearly 100% of the long-term debt is the result of Republican fiscal mismanagement.

Now, I realize that this observation is premised on pesky details like fact, reality, and evidence — none of which have any relevance in a campaign, in GOP talking points, or in mainstream media coverage. But it’s worth remembering that when Republicans talk about the “potency” of the debt as a political issue, they’re pointing to a mess they created.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.