With about a month to go before the U.S. government begins defaulting on its debt, negotiations over raising the national debt ceiling have reached a critical juncture. But instead of working with President Obama to craft a solution to the nation's fiscal problems, congressional Republicans have chosen to back out of the talks. Their reason? The President wants to end tax breaks for energy companies and owners of corporate jets.
You read that right. Last week House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and a number of their Republican colleagues cited the president's desire to raise taxes on the super rich as reason for abandoning the debt ceiling talks. The same talks, mind you, that congressional Republicans called for in the first place because they were concerned about the nation's fiscal health.
Over the last few months conservative officials have rarely missed a chance to sound the alarm over the size of the national debt and its component part, the federal budget deficit. But now that the president has come up with a plan that tries to reduce the deficit through $2 trillion in spending cuts and $400 billion in tax increases, Republican leaders have chosen to walk away.
Why? The answer, it seems, is as simple as it is disturbing: the Republican Party doesn't care about the national debt. In abandoning the debt ceiling talks, congressional Republicans have indicated their willingness to sacrifice the American economy to the God of Tax Cuts. This should hardly come as a surprise given that Republicans have long prioritized tax cuts over balanced budgets. (Think of the massive deficits initiated by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.) But this time is different: by bringing the government to the brink of default, an event that would have disastrous consequences for the U.S. and world economies, Republicans have decided to play politics with the country's future at precisely the time that constructive economic leadership is called for.
In other words, Republicans' decision to walk away from the debt ceiling talks shows just how far the GOP has strayed from conservative principles. For while they have labeled their opposition to the debt ceiling increase an act of fiscal responsibility, Republican actions -- first holding up passage of the debt ceiling increase and now threatening not to pass an increase at all -- are radical given that such legislation is needed to allow the government to pay back debts that it has already incurred. A national default would be an unprecedented event in American history, eroding our country's hard-earned creditworthiness and threatening its place at the center of the global economy. Indeed, preventing a national default should be priority number one for any government, as the European debt crises demonstrate.
If tough times reveal true character, then it is telling that Republicans appear ready to throw away over two hundred years of American history for relatively modest tax increases on the wealthiest members of society. As the debt ceiling showdown intensifies, we would do well to remember that, while President Obama and other Democrats have shown a willingness to compromise in order to achieve important goals, the Republican Party has decided to act like petulant children -- threatening to take their ball and go home if they can't get every single thing they want.