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Republicans, Obamacare, and the Debt Ceiling

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House Republicans are making a big deal about voting for a repeal of Obamacare. Unfortunately, it is nothing more than standard political posturing. The following is what they will say when the Democrat-controlled Senate votes it down or when Obama threatens to veto the repeal: “If only voters will give Republicans control of the Senate and also give us the presidency, we’ll be able to repeal Obamacare.”

After all, isn’t that what they did in the 1990s, after their infamous “Contract with America.” Didn’t they say, “The only reason we can’t slash federal spending and abolish federal agencies and departments is that we don’t have control over Congress and the presidency.” But after voters delivered Congress and the presidency to the Republicans, they laughed all the way to the bank, feeding at the federal trough, handing out money to their buddies, and having a grand old party.

Voters were not amused, which is why they turned against the Republicans and ousted them from power. But Republicans know that in politics, memories are short. If the political posturing worked in the 1990s, it can work again. Anyway, lots of people get a kick out of being fooled by politicians.

How could Republicans show good faith in their supposed determination to rein in federal spending? They’re going to have an excellent opportunity in about 2 or 3 months. That’s when the federal government bumps up against the $14.3 billion debt ceiling. That’s when conservative rubber will meet the road.

What is the debt ceiling? It’s a pledge — a promise — a commitment by Congress that the federal government’s debt will not exceed the prescribed limit. It’s Congress’ way of saying: “The amount of debt incurred by the federal government is excessive. We will not exceed that limit.”

But we’ve been here before. Each time the ceiling has been reached, statists, especially those in the mainstream media, go ballistic about complying with the limit. “We can’t live with this particular debt ceiling!” they cry. “We need to keep spending and borrowing. We’re in a recession. We’ve got to raise the debt ceiling one last time. That will give us some breathing room to get things in order. We can comply with the ceiling the next time.” It’s enough to remind one of the alcoholic who declares, “Just one more drink. I promise it will be the last.”

The result is that the debt ceiling has become a fraud on the American people. Since Congress raises the ceiling every time it’s reached, as a practical matter the ceiling doesn’t exist at all. So, why even have it? Why not just say that there is now no limit on big spending and big borrowing?

Again, the answer is political posturing. By raising the ceiling, the politicians can make it look to the American people, especially with great indignation over having to do it again, like they’re terribly concerned about the amount of the federal debt and that they’re imposing a limit on it. But they always know that when the limit is reached in a year or so, they’ll just do the same thing again, which makes the entire process a fraud. Obviously, the honest route would be simply to abolish the debt ceiling and proclaim, “We are going to continue spending and borrowing to our heart’s content and we’re charging it to you and your children, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

Will Republicans cave when the debt ceiling vote is reached? My prediction: You bet your debased dollar they’ll cave. But while they’re caving, they’ll also be posturing by crying, “Obamacare! Obamacare! We tried to repeal Obamacare!”

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.