Power Play

Go Big? Hardly

Go Big? Hardly; New Iran Reality; Freddie Money a Warning Light for Gingrich

Overheated Rhetoric Doesn’t Match Reality on Debt Debate

"Failure can't be an option. The whole rest of the world is watching."

-- Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., at a press conference urging the members of the debt-ceiling supercommittee to “go big.”

The discussion in Congress is very much about “going big” these days. By “go big,” moderate members of both houses mean that they want to see a program of tax increases and spending reductions that would reduce deficits over the next decade by some $4 trillion.

That sounded like a lot of money until the Treasury Department announced that the federal debt had just crossed the $15 trillion mark on Wednesday afternoon. Talk about “go big!”

The government has added $4.4 trillion to its debt in the past 1,030 days. Washington needed 2,304 days to accrue the previous $4.4 trillion in debt. For the $4.4 trillion before that? About 5,889 days, stretching all the way back to 1986.

At this rate, the next $4.4 trillion would pile up less than 18 months, and another $4.4 trillion in about 9 months after that. We’d be closing in on $24 trillion by the end of 2013. Starting to see a trend?

The government maintains that the rate is going to slow down from this terrifying geometric progression very soon. Not right now, mind you, but as soon as is practical. They promise.

We got here through 40 years of automatic spending increases, the burgeoning Baby Boomer demand for social services, inflation, three years of bailouts and many more things. But most of the increase can be traced to one persistent problem in Washington: magical thinking.

The faces have changed, but the refrain has been the same: Things will get better next year. A future Congress will be more fiscally responsible than the current one. Government programs will begin to function efficiently.

But magical thinking is proving more difficult in these days of debilitating deficits.

Even under the very rosy forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office (unemployment back to 5 percent, GDP growth at almost 4 percent, continually low interest payments on debt), the government would be on track to borrow another $8.5 trillion over the next decade if current tax rates and Medicare payments are maintained.

Calling for a national debt of $20 trillion instead of $24 trillion a decade from now is what passes “going big” in Congress these days.

It is remarkable to watch lawmakers hyperventilate over how much to reduce the rate of increase in spending in 2022 or changes to entitlement eligibility a half-century away even as the debt clock roars in our ears. But, that’s about the state of things in our Congress this week as Democrats and Republicans point accusing fingers at each other over the “failure” of the debt-ceiling supercommittee.

Which is funny, because the creation of the supercommittee was itself an admission of failure by Congress back in August when lawmakers couldn’t rationalize a way to grant President Obama a $2.6 trillion increase in the federal credit limit but weren’t willing to jump off a cliff by refusing to allow the borrowing.

The genius of the supercommittee is certainly not as a deficit-reduction device, but a blame-absorption one.

Stacked with reliable partisans who are either electorally safe or retiring, the supercommittee is designed to take the hit for the rest of Congress when it comes to paying for the third and largest dose of the debt-ceiling increase already granted to Obama.

Beyond its confines, conservatives can rail against liberal tax increases, liberals can rail against conservative cuts to welfare programs and moderates can throw up their hands at the refusal of partisans to accept their very modest suggestions, as if they are surprised that a body with considerable numbers of real live libertarians and bona fide socialists should struggle to decide what to do.

The final $1.2 trillion of the debt-limit increase will certainly be triggered and the supercommittee will come up with some creatively accounted reductions to the rate of deficit increases. They may come up short of the goal, but six days hence, there will be some plan out there that imagines a decade of good fortune for the United States. More borrowing and more magical thinking.

The idea that somehow the “world is watching” whether a 12-member panel can agree on which way to contrive a pile of prospective spending cuts and tax increases to placate voters irate over unsustainable borrowing is one of the greatest expression of congressional self-regard yet.

Barring a sudden outburst of bipartisanship or the decision to scuttle the whole deal and block the debt increase, the world will little note the continuing political posturing of a divided American Congress.

The truth of the matter is that we have had two wave elections in a row. One elected the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson and the other elected most conservative House since the 1920s. It will take a third election to resolve the question of how to address the debt.


"We've had to balance the desire for tough action with the need to keep China and Russia on board."

-- Western diplomat talking to the Wall Street Journal about the troubles in agreeing to new sanctions against Iran.

The Pentagon is showing off its new bunker-busting, 30,000-pound bomb and President Obama is leaving a military attack on the table. But the main vein of action against Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program remains increasing chattering and brow mopping in Washington and Brussels.

Today’s Wall Street Journal explains why: the increasingly muscular Chinese and Russian governments have laid down the law. They will continue to do business with Tehran and everybody else can lump it.

The last available option for the West is to freeze out Iran’s central bank, which would definitely hurt the regime there by essentially making it impossible to sell oil in Western currency. But would also send oil prices skyward and gold prices too as the mullahs started taking bullion for their crude.

The new global reality increasingly seems to be the existence of a rogue theocracy with oil wealth and nuclear weapons or a massive war in a radicalizing Middle East if the Israelis opt to interfere with Tehran’s plan.

How Much Does Newt’s Freddie Consulting Matter?

“$151 billion”

-- Estimated taxpayer aid to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since 2008 according to Government Accountability Office reports.

The measure of excellence in politics is not on a historical scale, but a competitive one. A politician doesn’t have to better than Abraham Lincoln or Julius Caesar, just better than the jamokes he’s running against.

Newt Gingrich is currently testing that proposition with conservative Republicans increasingly desperate to find someone who can mount a credible campaign against perennial frontrunner, moderate Mitt Romney.

Herman Cain now seems bound for a quick unraveling as the pressure of high poll numbers and sexual harassment charges have proven too much. As reporters look on in fascinated horror, Cain seems unable to avoid committing at least one significant blunder per day.

The other remaining contender for the conservative vote (about 70 percent of the Republican electorate), Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has stopped the bleeding and ratcheted up his rhetoric again in a bid to convince Republicans that he may really be kind of a wild man.

His best idea so far may be to challenge Nancy Pelosi to a debate over his plan to hog tie Congress. For a guy who is a terrible debater it is a chance to show he’s not afraid. Pelosi won’t do it, but she will surely have to answer, and will do so with some rejoinder dripping with contempt and scorn. That’s a double score for Perry.

But Gingrich is looking to end the primary-within-a-primary now. He’s staffing up in Iowa and South Carolina and looking to assume his rightful place as the anti-Romney.

Working in his advantage is the fact that so much of his baggage has already been unpacked and discounted by conservatives. But his biggest liability is the fact that his long career in public life may yield more valises for Gingrich to explain, like the anonymously sourced report from Bloomberg that Gingrich was a consultant for Freddie Mac for many years for more than $1.6 million.

Once you’ve told it all, there had better not be any more to tell. Voters can learn to accept a flawed champion, but not one that has more surprises in store.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I think it's damaging. I'm not sure how damaging it is, but let's remember that when (Newt Gingrich) was asked about this in the debate, he said, ‘Well, I was there as a historian. What did I say? I said this is insane and impossible.’

It turns out if that is what he said, he must have said it over and over again, because he got $25,000 a month for three years at one point and then two years later. If you wanted to deliver a message -- it's a bubble -- you can do it in a minute, an hour, a day. But every month for five years?”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing the revelation that Gingrich was paid $1.6 million or more as a consultant to government-subsidized mortgage firm Freddie Mac.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.


Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.