Speaker of the House John Boehner gave a talk Monday to the New York Economic Club in which he outlined his demands for agreeing to raising the federal deficit limit. It was good theater and probably politically smart with parts of the GOP.
On every other level it was dangerous nonsense that threatens Americas economic future. Playing chicken with the White House may play well with his base, but as Boehner knows, sane people do not willingly put their credit ratings at risk and least of all the nations.
The most oft-cited concern about deficit spending is that mounting federal debt will, at some point, make our creditors nervous and lead to higher interest rates, a falling dollar and increased borrowing costs. Defaulting on U.S. debt would do the same, maybe worse.
Yet that is exactly what Boehner is threatening. In his speech Monday, he said, Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt there will be no debt limit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.
That sounds good; everyone recognizes the deficit is unsustainable. But Boehners threat is meaningless if it is not credible and wholly irresponsible if it is.
The popular likening of federal spending to a family sitting around the dining room table trying to get its budget in order is deeply flawed. Few families have taxing authority, can print money or control their own currency. But there are valid analogies. And the last thing Mom or dDad would suggest in that situation is deliberately getting behind on the mortgage or the credit card bills. Late charges, fees and higher interest rates would worsen the problem.
But that is what Boehner is threatening and he knows better. Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney quoted Boehner from Jan. 30 saying failing to raise the debt limit would mean financial disaster not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. You cant create jobs if you default on the federal debt.
This is not about the deficit, limiting federal debt or reining in big government. This is politics, pure and simple. The federal debt will keep expanding for some time no matter what. The decisions that drive that were made some time ago - by Congresses and presidents of both parties.
Indeed, the budget the House passed the one drawn up by Rep. Paul Ryan and much praised for its tough approach to future entitlement spending would increase the federal debt by more than $5 trillion over the next decade. Boehner knows that. He voted for it.
None of this is to say runaway deficit spending is healthy, warranted or acceptable. But neither is demagoguery or playing games with Americas economy.
Congress has no real choice but to raise the debt limit. It should do so without false drama.