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The GOP’s debt ceiling war not about debt but about Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 7/26/2011, 3:18 p.m.

The GOP’s debt ceiling war not about debt but about Obama

The GOP’s war over America’s debt ceiling is not about America’s debt, it’s about President Barack Obama. The debt ceiling debate can’t be separated from the GOP’s never-ending hunt for any issue that can taint, embarrass and ultimately weaken the Obama presidency.

The GOP’s goal is as it has always been: to make Obama a one-term president. The issue of whether America can pay its bills or not, or reneges on its financial obligations, which would be the catastrophe that would result from failing to raise the ceiling, is secondary to the GOP’s cynical political ploy.

The proof is how the debt ceiling jumped to center stage in political debate and the public’s awareness of it. The debt ceiling was an absolute non-issue during George W. Bush’s White House tenure. It was raised 10 times in those years with barely a peep that the U.S. was in mortal danger of a fiscal crash and burn under its great weight of debt.

This debt was incurred almost exclusively by Bush’s two wildly costly and wasteful wars, his two behemoth tax cut giveaways to the rich, a relentless gut of regulations that made banks’ and corporations’ tax liability fall to historically low levels, and then capped by a taxpayer giveaway to Wall Street banks and financial houses.

The debt would be hiked to near astronomical proportions if Congress ever approved the House GOP’s budget plan, drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, which would add $6 trillion into the national debt over a decade. Strangely, there’s no debt-ceiling squawk from the GOP on this horrific prospect.

But the GOP didn’t acquiesce in turning the debt into a non-issue solely to appease a GOP president. Congress jumped the debt ceiling 64 times since 1962 before Bush took office, for Democratic and Republican presidents alike. The ceiling was raised even in election years without any public fanfare.

But when polls showed that a majority of Americans were concerned about mounting debt, and that a sizable number of Americans wanted to rein in spending, the debt ceiling instantly became a fresh weapon for the GOP to barrage Obama.

They calculate they can score three political pluses on the cheap. They can further tar Obama and the Democrats as reckless spendthrifts that want to run the country and the economy into the ground. They can wrap themselves even more snugly in the cloak of the defenders of fiscal prudence and responsibility with the solemn mission of guarding the nation’s taxpayer’s purse.

They can drive a wedge between Obama and Congressional Democrats by forcing him to make concessions for a budget deal that will draw howls from Democrats. The concessions are, of course, putting the Democrats’ two sacred cow programs, Medicare and Social Security, on the chopping block.

The GOP ploy played out to predictable perfection. The instant word leaked out that Obama had offered to make a tweak in the cost of living formula for Social Security and raise the age limit on Medicare recipients, a legion of congressional Democrats screamed betrayal and warned that any such deal on the two vital programs would have damaging consequences for Democrats in 2012.