House Republicans should listen to Newt Gingrich, who is warning that holding the country hostage with debt ceiling brinksmanship will backfire. Gingrich, who after all was responsible for twice shutting down the government, argues that the American people won't stand for Congress jeopardizing our national credit by refusing to pay for bills that have already come due. The former Speaker wisely believes that the Republicans should more carefully pick their battles, and this isn't one they are likely to win.
Gingrich suggests that the Republicans take the smarter course, which is to propose their own spending cuts in the form of a continuing resolution; in effect, put their cards on the table. He asserts that since 75 percent of Americans favor spending cuts to reduce the deficit, the Republicans will have a much better argument if they fight for those cuts rather than threatening to ruin the nation's credit and provoke a deeper recession, possibly on a global scale.
Of course, Gingrich is only half right about public support for cuts. While a large majority favor reducing spending cuts in the abstract, when it comes to specific cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs, public support drops considerably. Still, Gingrich is right that the morally responsible approach for the Republicans would be to put forth and fight for the proposals they believe in, specifically entitlement cuts, rather than arguing for less spending while refusing to put forward specifics. And, above all, Gingrich correctly makes the point that it would be politically foolish and dishonest to hold the debt ceiling as a hostage.
One other interesting point that Gingrich made recently: Republicans need to get over Obama. The president won reelection and will be in the White House for four more years. He is not running again and there is no reason for Republicans to go after him personally -- although that still seems to be high on their agenda. If they were smart about it, they would realize that all second-term presidents have at most two years to exercise their political power. After two years, every second-term president effectively becomes a lame duck, and there is no reason to believe Obama will be any different.
However, the Republicans seem to be hell-bent on continuing their anti-Obama crusade, even though it harms their party and their cause much more than it hurts Obama or the Democrats. So while Newt Gingrich represents much that has been wrong with the Republican party for the last 20 years -- and is as responsible as anyone for the extreme partisanship in Washington today -- he has clearly learned some lessons from the past, lessons that the current crop of House Republicans would be well advised to pay attention to.