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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Five Biggest Flip-Flops of the Debt Ceiling Debate

They say in politics that you know you’ve become a statesman when you’ve been on almost every side of an issue at one time or another. When Washington politicians draw lines in the sand, those lines are almost always temporary. Just look at the debt-limit negotiations. House Speaker John Boehner last week accused President Obama of “moving the goal posts.” The truth is that everyone has shifted positions as the talks have dragged on. Here are the five biggest flip-flops of the debt-ceiling debate so far:

1. McConnell was for multiple votes before he was against them: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last month proposed holding three separate votes to raise the debt ceiling — two increments of $900 billion and one of $700 billion — over the next year. His “fall back plan” would have Obama suggest cuts and if those cuts failed to pass, Congress would hold a a vote to politically embarrass the President and Democrats for their failure to deal with the deficit. The plan, however, was panned by House Republicans, who were unwilling to take several votes on the debt ceiling and balked at the idea of giving away spending power to the President.

Fast forward five weeks. Though McConnell’s office says he supports Boehner’s plan to hold two votes on the debt ceiling, one now and one early next year, Senate Democratic and Republican sources say McConnell privately isn’t enamored with the idea of splitting it into more than one step. The issue has turned out to be a loser for Republicans and McConnell, ever the political animal, would rather see it dispensed with now.

2. House Republicans were against multiple votes before they were for them: In response to McConnell’s back up plan, House Republican leaders in June said they were against holding more than one debt ceiling vote. Aides, on background, told reporters the freshmen were unwilling to vote on this once, let alone three times. “I don’t see how multiple votes on a debt ceiling increase can help get us to where we want to go,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing on June 21. “It is my preference that we do this thing one time.”

And yet, Speaker Boehner is crafting legislation this week that would require two debt ceiling votes, one immediate one increasing the borrowing limit by about $1 trillion and one early next year that would give negotiators time to find another $1.4 trillion in cuts to offset the $2.4 trillion debt ceiling increase needed to get past the 2012 elections. Having failed to find the full $2.4 trillion in real cuts now, House Republicans are hoping to buy more time to find the rest of the money. (more)