Gov. Sean Parnell recently signed a pledge to oppose raising the national debt limit. Sen. Lisa Murkowski acknowledges it would be a disaster to not raise the national debt ceiling. The difference between these two Alaskan Republicans on the issue of whether or not to raise the debt ceiling is more than a difference of opinion; rather it is indicative of the two different types of Republicans that now exist on our political landscape.
While I am certainly no expert on what makes a Republican, David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times certainly is and I find his analysis particularly insightful to understanding Alaska’s most prominent Republicans. In a July 4th op-ed, entitled “The Mother of All No-Brainers” he notes that “a normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity [presented by the current negotiations on the budget and raising the debt ceiling] to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.” Unfortunately, this is not happening because the Republicans have been taken over by Tea Party zealots who are more interested in protest and undermining the President than presenting a practical, governing alternative. As Brooks notes, “the members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise”, nor “the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities”. He even goes on to claim that “the members of this movement have no sense of moral decency... they talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.”
These are fighting words from a strong, highly regarded Republican voice. These are fighting words because the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling by August 2nd are catastrophic according to all bipartisan institutes and independent economists. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Debt Reduction has determined that the consequences of a ‘no deal’ would lead to 1) a reduction of 44% spending by the federal government which equates to 10 percent of the GDP, 2) higher interest rates as the Treasury Department attempts to sell $500 billion in new debt and 3) a downgrading in America’s credit rating.
Do we really need to go down this path when we’re trying to crawl out of an economic recession? Do we really need to be blindly stubborn to compromising when Republicans are merely being asked to close tax loopholes and eliminate distortionary tax expenditures? According to Parnell the answer is yes. The pledge he signed would not allow for movement unless we commit to amending the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget amendment requiring a super-majority to raise taxes. Setting such an impossible bar to clear is the same as asking, “what part of No don’t you understand?” It does not present a governing alternative of any kind.
Fortunately for Alaska, it appears that Murkowski remains with the more normal part of the Republican Party. As she notes, “we need to be solving the problem, not trying to one-up the other side.” In fact the Republican Party is in a position to make real political hay over their toughness to bring Democrats to the table to negotiate serious spending cuts. According to Brooks, the Democrats “have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.”
While Murkowski has yet to sign on to any deficit reduction deal, she appears to have the wisdom of putting the country’s interest first. “We need to be worried about the future of the country and not about political futures”. Her comments are in stark contrast to pledge-signing Parnell.
But which faction of the Republican Party will prevail? Right now it appears that the protest movement has the upper hand. And if they prevail, the pain of market chaos, the sting of compounding economic hardship and the stain on America’s financial integrity will blur the lines on what type of Republican killed the debt ceiling deal. They will all be one and the same.
Now the distinctions are noticeable. The debt ceiling negotiations are at a critical stage. We will either emerge stronger heading toward deficit reduction, or spiral backwards into economic calamity. This a time when common sense and good of the country should absolutely trump protest ideology. This is a lesson that Parnell sorely needs to learn from the more normal side of the Republican Party as exemplified by Murkowski.
• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.