Matt Miller - The Archives
Boehner's awe-inspiring hypocrisy on the debt limit
The Washington Post, May 11, 2011

There's politics-as-usual.

There's even hypocrisy-as-usual.

But then—at rare moments—there is political behavior that can only be dubbed Super-Duper Hypocrisy So Brazen They Must Really Think We're Idiots.

Sad to say that's where the Republicans have taken us on the debt limit.

In a perverse sense, I suppose, it's a thrill to have such a sighting. The kind of frisson bird-watchers must experience when they spy a golden-crowned kinglet or a piping plover. The amazement one feels watching an Olympic diver execute a forward four-and-a-half-somersault with a degree of difficulty of 3.5. Or a graceful backhand winner hit by Roger Federer at a full run. Such moments inspire awe.

So maybe I shouldn't say Republicans have taken us to a new low when it comes to the debt limit. Maybe, when it comes to the political arts, it's a new high.

After all, when Bob Kerrey said of Bill Clinton, "He's an unusually good liar—unusually good," Kerrey meant it as a professional compliment.

The new GOP mantra is to define what the president must agree to in spending cuts to get the debt-limit increase "he has asked for."

You see the sly innuendo? It's apparently just the president who wants to add more debt. Republicans were just sitting there, minding their own business, and the guy just comes up and asks if he can borrow trillions more!

"As you know," John Boehner told the Economic Club of New York Monday night, "the president has asked Congress to increase the debt limit."

"If Mr. Obama wants a big increase in the debt limit," the Wall Street Journal editorial page echoed Tuesday, "he'll just have to engage on reforming the big entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and perhaps even Social Security."

Where to begin?

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has just passed Paul Ryan's fiscal plan, which would add between $5 trillion and $6 trillion to the national debt in the next decade.

That's more debt than has ever been incurred in any 10-year period in our history.

The House GOP budget does not touch Social Security.

And though it may surprise some people, given all the shouting, the House budget—for which John Boehner voted—also does little on Medicare in the next 10 years. According to Ryan, it increases spending on Medicare from $563 billion in 2011 to $953 billion in 2021, a boost of 69 percent. Ryan's controversial changes to the program wouldn't begin until after 2021.

(The House GOP does make real cuts to Medicaid, however, a program that funds health care mostly for poor people who don't vote Republican.)

How can a party that just passed a budget blueprint with historic new levels of debt and virtually no middle-class entitlement reform in the next decade try, with a straight face, to pin the blame for a debt-limit increase on the president?

The only plausible answer is that they think it will "work" politically.

That means they think the press is too docile and stenographic to expose the con.

And that the public is too dumb or tuned out to care, even if the press does its duty.

One of the saddest commentaries on the quality of our civic culture today is that political operatives know these are both fairly good assumptions.

This explains why Boehner can say things such as "with the exception of tax hikes ... everything is on the table"and not be laughed out of town.

Even when he adds, "This is the moment to address these problems as adults."

I know there are plenty of Democratic budget frauds afoot (the biggest being the president's pretense that we can get our fiscal house in order by raising taxes only on folks with incomes above $250,000). In fact, I had a whole Democratic health-care charade I was planning to discuss this very week. Honest! But then John Boehner went to the Economic Club, the Wall Street Journal piled on and my blood boiled.

There's no question that both parties are failing us. But for connoisseurs of hypocrisy, the GOP's debt-limit gambit deserves a primal scream all its own.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. When the president sits down with senators of both parties this week in separate White House powwows on the debt, his position should be this: "Let's just increase the debt limit by the amount of debt it would take to accommodate Paul Ryan's budget in the next decade. We can fight about the details later. No spooking the markets over this insanity."

Even a debauched democracy like the United States can aim for minimal standards of rationality in public debate. It's the adult thing to do.