DeMint’s “New Low” In Political Stunts

After threatening to derail the New START treaty last month DeMint is advocating that Congress NOT pass bills to meet current spending obligations. He advocates simply not worrying about the consequences, since the need was created by policies he never agreed with in the first place.


Inaction has always been part of DeMint’s arsenal, but he’s recently become notorious for it. So much so that Fox News apparently ran a report last month entitled “DeMint’s ‘New Low’ in ‘Political Stunts’”.

A failure to raise the debt ceiling would in effect shut down the federal government (possibly by the end of March, according to Treasury Secretary Geitner). The threat to government services is general, but is being discussed in the context of long term GOP goals for restructuring or eliminating Social Security and health care services.

DeMint’s tactics are not universally popular within his own party.

Republicans have been preaching the death of Social Security since the days of Jack Kemp and David Stockman (from the beginning of the program as well). The day of crisis has never arrived, as SS has its own dedicated funding. Government deficit projections that theoretically use SS taxes as general revenue have no bearing on the funding of the actual program, so long as it remains in place.

Jim DeMint appears to be impatiently attempting to bring about the day of reckoning on his own. And he is being attacked from the Right for his trouble.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

What are DeMint’s goals?   Speaking as an economic conservative, Wehner finds them incoherent:

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

Threatening a default of the national government is just an extension of the medicine that DeMint and others have been prescribing for the states.   There have been a spate of articles on the current congress tightening federal support for state programs, which would likely send states into bankruptcy.  State bankruptcy is supposed to serve the political purpose of forcing massive layoffs in state government, reducing salaries and pension payments for state employees and crippling public sector unions.
DeMint has endorsed privatizing Social Security in the past. Privatization has been part of his platform since his first run for Congress in 1998. Wehner is only pointing out an obvious contradiction. DeMint wants to cut the deficit, but appears to be taking Social Security off the table. Then DeMint endorses a position that would leave SS and Medicare unfunded.

Virtually no one else in his own party accepts the proposal that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not need to be cut. DeMint’s SC colleague Lindsey Graham endorsed raising the retirement age the other day. But DeMint seems to understand that raising the retirement age is a cut in benefits…and to actually oppose it on that basis:

DeMint: ..The idea of raising retirement to people who need it the most are the ones that are most likely to have done manual labor their whole life and are the least likely to want to continue to work well into their old age, my hope is that we won’t look at cutting benefits again and we won’t look at raising taxes again.
DeMint actually seems to be opposed to cutting SS, until you read on.

“…I think we have the opportunity now to make every American a saver and investor, to begin to actually save Social Security taxes for the first time…”

DeMint prefers privatizing SS to just cutting it and seems to believe that investment will somehow provide for people, where SS did not. SS, of course guarantees a certain amount of money every month. Investment guarantees nothing, and the recent performance of 401Ks suggests considerable risk.

There is absolutely no way that individual investment accounts can meet the basic needs of every senior citizen. DeMint’s is opposed to the idea of a guaranteed income for anyone. Yet he seems to have a mystical belief in the ability of the market to provide. Or perhaps the failures of the market wouldn’t be his concern.

Critics of SS like Wehner aren’t promising seniors that they will do better in a privatized system, they simply believe that there is no alternative. That’s untrue, but he isn’t pretending that every elderly investor would do fine in the market.

Wehner’s right about one thing though. It is irresponsible for DeMint to force the government to abandon its current obligations when it still has the ability to meet them.

It’s worth watching the exchange with an interviewer from Human Events magazine on the same topic:

And an interesting exchange with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. Van Susteren takes a critical tack on DeMint’s obstructionism…unusually critical for Fox journalist.


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