Political theater clouds US debt ceiling vote

US lawmakers Tuesday hold a certain-to-fail
vote on raising the government’s borrowing limit
© AFP/File Shawn Thew

AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US lawmakers Tuesday hold a certain-to-fail vote on raising the government’s borrowing limit, revealing political posturing on a issue the White House warns could have “calamitous” economic consequences.

The Treasury says that unless Congress votes to raise the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling by August 2, Washington could be forced to default on its obligations, in a move that would send shockwaves through the global economy.

Opposition Republicans, who won the House of Representatives last November amid a public mood of steep anxiety over the ballooning size of government debt, will only back raising the debt limit in return for steep cuts in the deficit.

The White House initially argued for a “clean” vote on the debt limit without conditions. It later recognized that position was not politically sustainable, and has held several rounds of talks on Republicans on huge spending cuts.

But no deal has so far been reached, and both sides seem a long way apart, as markets seek clarity on an issue vital to US public finances and the wider global economy.

Republican leaders thickened the political plot by calling for a vote Tuesday on a “clean” bill without deficit cutting measures to raise the ceiling by 2.4 trillion dollars — which is certain to fail because they oppose it.

However, the symbolic vote will allow Republicans to argue that Americans want steep cuts — and give their members cover to argue to their ultra-conservative base that any eventual vote to lift the ceiling secured slashing budget cuts.

Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, meanwhile advised his caucus to vote against the Republican bill, saying that failure to do so could expose them to “demagoguery” in the looming 2012 campaign season.

White House spokesman Jay Carney took pains to avoid being drawn into the political theater over the vote Tuesday, saying decision to vote was “fine.”

He insisted that the White House was confident that talks between Vice President Joe Biden and top Republicans would eventually yield a deal to raise the debt ceiling, despite current political posturing.

“Everything that happens in Washington is political by nature — I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense,” he said.

“We understand the views that are being expressed, we share the concerns that drive those views.

“We believe very strongly the impact of not raising the debt ceiling would be calamitous.”

Both Obama and Republicans have agreed on a figure of roughly four trillion dollars in budget cuts that they say is vital to reining in the deficit in the long-term and putting the economy on a sustainable path to fiscal prudence.

But they are still sharply at odds about how to make the savings.

Republicans claim Obama is interested in preserving big government programs and wants tax increases which would harm the economy.

The White House says Republican budget plans would place the very survival of popular social programs like Medicare for the elderly at risk, and would also cut vital investments in clean energy and education.

As the political posturing evolved, key senators Barbara Boxer and Bob Casey called on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to argue lawmakers should not be paid if Washington defaults on its debts.

“If we cannot do our jobs and protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should not get paid,” the senators said.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez meanwhile joined 19 colleagues and called on Biden to end billions of dollars in subsidies to oil firms in any deal that would raise the debt ceiling or cut the deficit.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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