“Nobody should assume we’re going to have a debt-limit extension,” John Boehner warned. “If the vote were held today, it would not pass.” Sound familiar? This was Boehner in November of 1995, when he was the House Republican Conference chairman and his party was refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless President Bill Clinton agreed to a package of sweeping spending cuts.
Well, gosh, now we know where Boehner learned how to practice hostage-taking! It's too bad that Boehner didn't succeed......well, until sixteen years later when he faced a new Democratic President. What happened to make John Boehner back down from trying to take hostages?
The story begins in October 1995, when, in exchange for raising the debt limit, Republicans demanded $245 billion in tax cuts, welfare overhaul, restraints on Medicare and Medicaid growth, and a balanced budget within seven years. The GOP’s plan, argued Boehner, was “the only one […] certified to eliminate the deficit and save our nation’s future from bankruptcy.” But from the very beginning, Clinton would have none of it. “If they send me a budget that says simply, ‘You take our cuts or we’ll let the country go into default,’ I will veto it,” Clinton said at the time, calling Republican tactics “economic blackmail.” Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin held the same firm line.
Republicans appeared to dig in their heels in early November, when the House passed a bill increasing the debt limit—but only through the next month—as well as a continuing resolution that included higher Medicare premiums and other spending cuts. Instead of attempting to negotiate over the cuts, Clinton simply vetoed both bills. “America has never liked pressure tactics, and I would be wrong to permit these kind of pressure tactics to dramatically change the course of American life,” Clinton said. “I cannot do it, and I will not do it.” The government shut down.
Still, even though Clinton enjoyed political and economic advantages that Obama does not, his no-compromises strategy had some clear advantages. Unlike Obama, he refused to let the threat of default set the national agenda. Because he would not enter into negotiations over the debt ceiling, the issue barely roused the public consciousness. On November 9, 1995, a senior administration official told the Washington Post, “Our position is it does not matter what they put on this legislation, we are not going to accept anything but clean bills because we will not be blackmailed over default. Get it? No extortion. No blackmail. What you hear are their screams of complaint as they realize we are not, not, not budging on this.”
Even though Bill Clinton was a centrist who signed into law horrible bills like the Telecommunications Act of 1996, NAFTA, and other corporate-friendly laws, he at least knew when to draw the line against Republicans. It seems that our President doesn't know when to draw that necessary line against Republicans.
Who believes he'll actually get the tax cuts on the wealthy repealed? Who believes that he'll stand up against the Super Commission that he signed into law? Who believes that he'll veto any recommendations from the Super Commission that does spending cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid when President has, time after time, expressed support for these cuts and changes in "entitlement" reform? Who believes that the Super Commission will actually come up with new revenues?
I'm not in the market to buy a new bridge at this point. Others may be, and it's their money to do with as they want.