In a curious piece of showmanship, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday brought to a vote the question of raising the federal debt — knowing that the measure would fail.
And it did. Every Republican voted against raising the debt limit — something that the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says must be done by August 2 to keep the government operating and to avoid default on loans.
The GOP votes alone killed the measure, since Republicans hold the majority in the House. But many Democrats joined with the GOP in the 318-97 vote.
Half of House Democrats crossed out of worry over the political potential of raising the debt ceiling — it could become an albatross around their necks in the 2012 elections.
No one expects Congress to resolve the debt ceiling until the last minute — it is that kind of issue — and Democrats were bitter about being forced to vote on it Tuesday night.
“Republicans in the House and Senate will try and use this vote to argue that future action on the debt ceiling must be coupled with a package of contentious debt reduction proposals,” said U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, in a statement. “This argument is wrongheaded and highly irresponsible. Politics must never be put before the good of the country. By holding the debt ceiling increase hostage for partisan purposes, House Republicans are flagrantly violating this sacred principle of responsible governance.”
Conyers’ prediction quickly proved true. Immediately after the vote, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, laid out the real issue — no agreement on the debt without significant spending cuts first.
“Tonight’s vote illustrates that there is no support in the People’s House for a debt limit increase without real spending cuts and binding budget process reforms,” Cantor, R-Virginia, said in a statement. “The families and business owners throughout the country want Washington to begin to live within its means and stop maxing out the credit card.”
President Barack Obama wants to turn that around — deal with the debt ceiling first, then work on reductions.
But Republicans may hold the advantage politically, and they certainly do in public opinion. In late May, a poll by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center asked this question: “Which is the greater concern, raising the debt limit or not raising the debt limit?”
Only 35 percent of 1,004 Americans surveyed said, “Not raising the debt limit.” Almost half — 48 percent — said they were more concerned about allowing more federal debt, despite the consequences.
With numbers like that, the political showmanship likely will continue.