If all goes as planned, Barack Obama and John Boehner will spend Sunday at the White House, locked together in what may be the largest game of Texas hold ‘em the world has ever seen.
The president and speaker are the two figures with the most skin in the Washington debate over an increased debt ceiling and the $14 trillion federal deficit. Obama wants to be re-elected. Boehner wants the U.S. House to remain Republican.
Neither wins with a Wall Street meltdown, which is what we’re assured will happen if the pair don’t reach an agreement on raising the federal government’s borrowing limit by Aug. 2.
Democrats in Congress are likely to rally, however reluctantly, to whatever cuts to entitlements Obama agrees to. But Boehner’s hold on his Republican troops is less secure. Especially if the deal includes increased federal revenue — not through tax rate increases, but the elimination of tax breaks.
Which of Georgia’s eight Republican members of the House are likely to join their speaker? Right now, it looks like very few.
In an interview on Bloomberg TV on Friday, Tom Graves of Ranger was skeptical of any need for a deal with the White House. “I think it’s very safe to say that Aug. 2 is a deadline that’s been put out there by [Treasury Secretary] Timothy Geithner. It’s been moved throughout. They’re already preparing for that date and to go past that date.”
Paul Broun of Athens pointedly introduced legislation this week that would lower the debt ceiling — not raise it. “I wholeheartedly hope that my colleagues will either ante up or try their luck at another profession,” he said.
On Thursday, Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville declared he wanted no part of a debt-ceiling vote — House Republicans, he said, had already turned down the idea. Hours earlier, Tom Price of Roswell appeared to rule out any package that included revenue increases.
“The quickest way to further stall economic growth is to raise taxes on American families under the guise of fiscal responsibility,” he said.
Phil Gingrey of Marietta, Austin Scott of Tifton and Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County have remained relatively quiet.
The tea party’s indisputable strength in Georgia is one reason for the shortage of Georgia Republicans leaping to Boehner’s side. But another is the lack of engagement on the debt-ceiling issue by the Georgia business community.
In Washington and New York, economists and financial wizards have warned of the dire consequences that would follow federal default. But in Georgia, little cover has been provided to those Republicans who might be in the mood to back Boehner’s play.
Joselyn Baker, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, admitted that her organization hasn’t yet engaged with members of Congress on the debt-ceiling debate.
That will soon change, she added. “It’s an issue that’s currently being discussed here.”
For now, the only House Republican from Georgia who might cast a vote for a debt-ceiling deal is Jack Kingston, who as a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman qualifies as a member of Boehner’s leadership team.
“If the president is willing to support some entitlement reforms, and if for every dollar of debt increase, there’s more than a dollar cut — or at least a dollar-for-dollar match — that will be very helpful,” Kingston said in a telephone interview.
Large, unpleasant pills will have to be swallowed — by both sides — the Savannah congressman said.
Some House Republicans are demanding passage of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. But the president doesn’t control the U.S. Senate, so that’s not going to happen, Kingston said.
House Republicans will have to be content to pursue that separately.
Military spending will probably have to be included in spending cuts House Republicans are insisting on, he said. Kingston said he would like to see federal spending reduced from 24 percent of the gross domestic product to something approaching 18 percent.
On the revenue side, Kingston said House Republicans are willing to take some suggestions from U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss when it comes to the elimination of some tax subsidies in order to boost revenue that can be applied to the federal debt.
“If it’s a tax loophole that helps one industry to the detriment of others, I think we’d certainly want to close it,” Kingston said. “If it’s a wealthy individual and they’re skating on their taxes, nobody’s in favor of that.”
Chambliss, in particular, has raised the possibility of eliminating tax deductions for the interest on mortgages on second homes.
“I think you could argue that. You could also even say flood insurance on a second home. National flood insurance is subsidized heavily,” Kingston said. “It’s consistent with the Republican philosophy of both tax simplification and tax fairness to look at things that only a select few industries or portions of the population can take advantage of.
“I’m not convinced that there’s real revenue in it, but for the sake of good faith, I don’t think we should run from that,” Kingston said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider