Ideology Trumps Economics
July 13, 2011, 5:00am

New York Times – Opinion Pages.

There is a huge gap in logic at the heart of the Republican intransigence on a debt-ceiling deal, and President Obama helped to illuminate it on Monday.

The party claims, as an article of faith, if not evidence, that the government’s growing debt is the reason for persistent unemployment and economic stagnation. And yet Republicans are spurning the president’s compromise offers to reduce that debt by trillions over the next decade because he is sensibly insisting that any deal include some increase in tax revenue.

“Where are they?” Mr. Obama asked at his news conference. “I mean, this is what they claim would be the single biggest boost to business certainty and confidence. So what’s the holdup?”

The holdup, of course, is that Republicans are far more committed to the ideological goals of cutting government and taxes than they are committed to cutting the deficit. They rejected several compromise offers by the White House, even though any revenue increases would be far outweighed by spending cuts.

Republican rejectionism was on clear display Saturday night when John Boehner, the House speaker, was forced to abandon a plan he and the president had discussed to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years.

The plan would have gone much too far in cutting discretionary spending and entitlements, taking too much money from the economy at a time when it desperately needs government investment. But it would have been better than the slashing and burning the Republicans have been demanding because it would have raised from $700 billion to $1 trillion in additional revenue beginning in 2013 by ending tax breaks and deductions for corporations and the rich, or by ending the Bush tax cuts for families making $250,000 or more.

The House Republican leader, Eric Cantor, insisted to Mr. Boehner that his members, shackled to antitax pledges, could not accept it, or anything similar. Now negotiators are trying to reach agreement on a deal to lower the deficit by $2 trillion or so over a decade. But the consequences for the economy and Americans’ lives would be just as disastrous if all of those “savings” come out of essential government programs, with no additional revenue.

Mr. Boehner’s refusal to push back against his party’s ideologues is only feeding their worst impulses. Many House Republicans have gone even further than Mr. Cantor and have rejected any deal that raises the debt ceiling, whether it contains revenue increases or not.

Representative Michele Bachmann and Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman, airily and irresponsibly insist that the government will find some other way to pay its bills. That’s dangerous nonsense. And as the president forcefully noted, a default could propel interest rates skyward, throw millions more Americans out of work, and create another recession.

It was good to see Mr. Obama challenging the Republicans’ illogic and pushing them to make a deal before it’s too late. But we fear the sort of deal he is willing to consider, based overwhelmingly on spending cuts, could still consign the country to more years of economic stagnation.

The president spoke about the need to create an infrastructure bank, to maintain unemployment benefits, and to protect the elderly and the poor. But keeping those goals will be nearly impossible with a debt deal that cuts three times as much spending as it raises revenue. A balanced plan, like the one Senator Kent Conrad is circulating among Senate Democrats, would cut spending and raise revenue equally, and would make it possible to pay for programs that kick-start the economy.

Americans need to hear the hard economic truth that there is no way to both cut the deficit and revive the economy without finding additional sources of revenue. As the president himself said on Monday, “If not now, when?”