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Everyone is looking for something (different) in a debt ceiling deal

WASHINGTON — With debt ceiling negotiations between Republican leaders and Democrats in the White House heating up, members of the the Minnesota delegation say they’re looking for different things in any potential compromise.

A proposal to raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion cleanly failed in the House earlier this month.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A proposal to raise the debt limit by $2.4 trillion cleanly failed in the House earlier this month.

Negotiations intensify
By all accounts, negotiations between Republicans, lead by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and the White House have intensified in recent weeks as lawmakers hustle to finish a deal before the Aug. 2 deadline.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
REUTERS/Larry Downing
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

Cantor told reporters Tuesday that Republicans have taken revenue increases in any form off the negotiating table, saying that the party instead wants to pursue policies that create jobs (and the taxable income that comes with them) in order to bolster the federal government’s bottom line. Spending cuts for government programs like Medicare and Medicaid remain part of the discussion, he said.

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“If we’re going to be seeing a plan that has deep cuts to Medicare and no revenue increases for the top 2 percent of income earners, it’s going to be very difficult for her to work to fix this problem on the backs of low income people,” Harper said. “Her premise on the budget is that everything needs to be on the table. Everything has to be part of a potential solution. That’s spending cuts, that’s increases in revenue, it’s entitlements, defense spending, everything has to be on the table.”

Rep. Keith Ellison
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Rep. Keith Ellison

Rep. Keith Ellison has always supported increasing the debt limit, and he’s done so this year, too. “If you want to say we shouldn’t incur more debts, that’s fine, but if we’ve already borrowed the money we should make sure we don’t default with our creditors,” Ellison said. “It’s dangerous to do so and its bad for our economy, and I also think its just wrong.”

But he’s accused Republicans of playing politics with the budget process, and urged support for the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget, which balances the budget by 2021, largely through ending tax cuts from the Bush years and restoring taxes to Clinton levels.

Tim Walz, the third Minnesotan with a solidly pro-debt ceiling voting record, is hoping for a compromise, a spokeswoman said: “That includes targeted smart cuts; proposals to make the way government operates more efficient; and tax reform that closes loopholes and brings more fairness to the system.”

Spending cuts and future hurdle
Minnesota’s cadre of Republicans have consistently opposed debt limit increases since the Democratic gains in 2007.

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John Kline, the longest serving among them, went on the offensive against a Democrat-led debt limit increase last year after the House raised the limit twice in two months, to its current level.

Now Kline is holding out support for a debt limit increase unless there are “dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process,” his spokesman, Troy Young, said.

Along those lines, Chip Cravaack, the first-term Republican who voted no in his first debt limit vote three weeks ago, has said he’s looking for  “immediate spending cuts” and “mechanisms … to curb future spending.”

Michele Bachmann is less vague, but far harder to please, having said she will support no debt ceiling increase unless Congress can completely defund President Obama’s health care reform law.

In last week’s Republican presidential debate, Bachmann turned the issue back on Obama, “someone who said just dealing with the issue of raising the debt ceiling is a failure of leadership,” she said. “Then-Senator Barack Obama … refused to raise the debt ceiling because he said President Bush had failed in leadership. Clearly, President Obama has failed in leadership.”

Playing politics
Bachmann is referencing Obama’s opposition to raising the debt ceiling in 2006, when he voted against raising the limit, just like every other Democrat in the Senate. But Obama, as president, is now insisting on heeding the warnings of major credit agencies, the Federal Reserve and even the Chamber of Commerce, who all say the United States must raise its debt limit or risk the viability of the American economy.

On this issue, Obama isn’t alone; many members, including some from Minnesota, have a history of changing their vote on the debt limit depending on who is in power.

McCollum, for example, voted against raising the debt limit every time it came up for a vote between 2002 and 2005. Since the Democrats won the House in the 2006 elections, though, she’s been a supporter of half-a-dozen measures with debt ceiling increases attached to them, including some straight increases, budget resolutions and three major economic recovery packages in 2008 and 2009 (the Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac takeover, TARP, and the stimulus package).

Kline has the opposite record, voting for a debt limit increase every year until the Democrats’ takeover, but only once (the TARP bill) since.

Kline’s record matches that of House Speaker John Boehner; McCollum’s is the same as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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Harper said McCollum voted against debt limit increases during the Republican years because she disagreed with their spending priorities, and as such, the burden was on them to support raising the debt to compensate.

“When you pass policies that purposefully create debt,” he said, “the party that passes those deficit-busting bills has the obligation to pay for it.”

Such voting trends aren’t unusual, even when it comes to the debt ceiling. But University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said this year’s debate has been especially contentious, given the size of the debt the new limit would allow and that so many freshman Republican freshman were elected on the platform of cutting spending.

Pearson said the fact that Republicans and the White House continue to discuss a resolution to the issue means progress is being made. But if, for some reason, a deal can’t be reached, the results would be economically dangerous, and unprecedented.

“Congress has gone to the brink before, but they have never failed to pass [a debt limit increase],” she said.