Cantor intends to push his (and our) luck

CANTOR INTENDS TO PUSH HIS (AND OUR) LUCK…. One of the unfortunate elements of the debt-ceiling debate is its ticking-clock quality — policymakers have to resolve the problem, they don’t have a lot of time, and if the clock reaches zero, we’re all in a lot of trouble.

How much time are we talking about here? According to the Treasury Department, the United States government will hit the debt limit in mid-May. Officials can then take “extraordinary measures” to create a brief buffer, before exhausting our ability to borrow in the first or second week of July.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggested yesterday he’s prepared to push his (and our) luck until the country reaches the crisis point.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) suggested Tuesday that Congress will allow the country to hit its debt ceiling, and continue to hold out for dramatic spending cuts while the nation approaches a genuine default.

“I think Treasury has, if I’m not mistaken, has put … out a notice that there is a window within which we have to act in order to avoid the eventual default of this country on its debt,” Cantor told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing. “And I believe that that outside deadline is early July.”

It’s important to understand how painfully ridiculous this is. We have this looming and imprecise deadline, we know policymakers are going to have to deal with it, we know the consequences of failure would likely be catastrophic, and the House Majority Leader is comfortable waiting until the last minute, pushing this crisis right to the brink.

Keep in mind, pushing off the resolution, even if it’s resolved before the deadline, is itself dangerous — if the country even gets close to exhausting its ability to borrow, it will rattle markets, undermine confidence, and (cue scary music) create widespread uncertainty.

Cantor’s the one, by the way, who’s been railing against economic “uncertainty” for two years.

The intelligent, responsible thing to do would be to tackle the problem immediately, reassure the markets, and prevent a disaster. The House Republican leadership freely admits it intends to do the exact opposite.

For what it’s worth, Cantor’s spokesperson later said the Majority Leader will not allow the United States to slip into default — how gracious of him — and intends to act between mid-May and the July deadline. That’s reassuring, I suppose, except for a couple of nagging points.

First, even waiting until after we hit the debt limit in mid-May is extremely reckless and unnecessary. Second, if Cantor doesn’t intend to walk right up to the cliff, why did he suggest otherwise when addressing reporters yesterday? Is it because the House Majority Leader doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

About a year ago, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said Eric Cantor and other GOP leaders “are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious.”

The assessment is every bit as true today. We need mature, responsible congressional leaders. Instead we have people like Eric Cantor.