House GOP Must Show True Grit on the Debt Ceiling

At Sunday night’s Oscars, "True Grit" shot blanks in all 10 of its nomination categories. Although Hollywood understandably shunned this morally-certain tale of a willful young woman demanding justice, we can still hope House Republicans will take some cues from the film before its DVD slots at Wal-Mart need re-stocking.

In the movie, 14-year-old Mattie Ross hires U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to hunt down the man who robbed and murdered her father. She’s convinced that Cogburn (like herself) has “true grit” – a fierce determination to get the job done against tough odds.

It’s an apt metaphor for the Tea Party movement and House Speaker John Boehner’s Republicans: Outraged by the near-criminal negligence of over-spending pols charging 40 cents per dollar of Washington’s spending to the U.S. credit card – and onto the backs of future generations – Tea Partiers and the U.S. electorate “hired” a House GOP majority last November to hunt down and hang the economy-killing excesses of Presidents Obama, Bush and a bipartisan gang of thieves on Capitol Hill.

Early in "True Grit," it’s uncertain whether drunken, one-eyed Rooster Cogburn (played perfectly by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 version and by John Wayne, 1969’s Best Actor, a generation ago) actually does have the grit to get the job done. Similarly, House GOP leaders have been approaching the monumental issue of the debt ceiling as if one-eyed drunks, dozing through the greatest opportunity to cut Washington down to size and do right by the American people since the west was won.

Nearly all of the 87 freshmen who made Boehner Speaker campaigned against raising the limit on the USA’s public debt, capped for now at a staggering $14.3 trillion. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner calculates that our national credit card will max-out near June. Yet Boehner has already muffed his lines, blurting intent to boost the borrowing limit on Obama’s Mastercard.

The Speaker and his budget chief Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could take a lesson in negotiations from Mattie Ross. Certain of herself and of right and wrong, Mattie shows canny (and literal) horse-trading instincts at the film’s start -- instincts which, so far, seem to elude Boehner. We are eyewitnesses to the troubling fact that Geithner has beguiled some leaders with the patently false notion that House resolve against further borrowing equals default to U.S. bondholders. This, in turn, argues to Boehner that it would be reckless not to raise the ceiling ahead of max-out.

Yet, as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) contend via clarifying legislation, non-borrowed tax revenues are more than ample to cover debt service – just not enough to pay for every nice, silly or evil thing to which Washington has become accustomed. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.), plus Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Tenn.), are talking tough against higher debt. Buy, like the bear-clad, corpse-toting medicine man who offers dubious aid in the film, Beltway RINO’s and erstwhile conservatives alike are selling the snake oil that higher federal borrowing – GOP surrender on the debt limit – is good political science. It’s not.

The House tourniquet tied to Obama’s “checkbook authority” which expires on March 4 – or a couple weeks later by extension – isn’t nearly tight enough to staunch the USA’s bleeding deficit, salved by new debt of about $125 billion per month; concurrence required from bandage-loosening Senate Democrats and Obama ensures the government will keep hemorrhaging red ink. The March theatrics – perhaps involving a government shutdown akin to the 1995-96 duel between President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich (in which tenderfoot Gingrich blinked) – are merely the B-movie warm-up in a double feature; Tea Party America neither fears nor craves a brief, meaningless closure of the Washington Monument due to a gap in the administration’s spending authority.

Instead, the epic, blockbuster feature presentation in the nation’s political theater should be all about House GOP shutdown of the president’s credit card – the outlaw means by which official Washington has confessed to robbing unborn generations of Americans: In 2006, an audacious newcomer told his Senate colleagues that “raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure…. Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren.” Playing the centrist, of course, he became president in 2008.

Can Obama’s House rival perform as well in the role of crisis leader? Can emotive John Boehner – who summons tears with the ease of an Oscar winner – fill the gritty boots of John Wayne and Jeff Bridges in a hard-charging Rooster Cogburn reprise on the Mall? The film climaxes with courageous Cogburn, reins in his teeth and two blazing six-shooters in hand, riding furiously headlong into four well-armed robbers on horseback; brave young Mattie, meanwhile, faces her father’s killer. In the states, meanwhile, confrontational “Cogburn governors” like Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and Chris Christie (R-N.J.) are showing Boehner the way.

The House packs heat far more powerful, however, than a couple of Colt pistols – something closer, in fact, to the Death Star of the space western "Star Wars": Strategic inaction on the debt ceiling, plus bold messaging with the certitude of a Mattie Ross, represents a GOP WMD (weapon of mass discipline) that can incinerate every obstacle to the bipartisan reforms so desperately needed in our dysfunctional U.S. government. Wielding this awesome weapon without cooperation from the Senate or the president, House Republicans can rescue the American Republic from Washington’s outlaws – and they can do so in about the same time it takes a film like "True Grit" to get from theater to DVD. Here’s how:

Pursuant to a national summit gathering over the weekend in Phoenix, today throngs of Tea Party Patriots, the largest umbrella for local tea party groups nationwide, are imploring all House Members to absolutely, positively refuse to vote for -- nor even seriously discuss -- allowing the U.S. debt to grow beyond the current $14.3 trillion cap prior to enactment of:

1) bipartisan entitlement reform to fix Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare, Social Security and anti-marriage U.S. welfare policy;

2) bipartisan tax reform (revenue-negative or neutral) to make the U.S. tax code flatter, simpler, less intrusive and more conducive to economic growth; and

3) cuts by more than half to discretionary spending not core to U.S. security. Furthermore, no House Republican should even talk about un-hiding Obama’s credit card until a balanced budget amendment with teeth has been reported out of Congress for ratification by the States.

A suicide mission? Not if House Republicans display the courage of their convictions. As the USA’s credit card heads into max-out, Washington will be forced to make the reforms and hard choices it has been avoiding for decades.

The president’s deficit commission and pundits left and right recognize that entitlements will devour us all without a fix. Most grasp that our byzantine tax code drives health care inflation, distorts efficient resource allocation, and impairs economic growth. Few Americans, moreover, favor borrowing 40 cents on the dollar for mortgage bailouts, TARP, SBA, NASA, NPR, CPB, NEA, EPA regulation of CO2 (human exhale, livestock flatulence), Americorps, Fannie, Freddie, HUD, Commerce, Energy, Education (which Reagan pledged to abolish), tobacco and ethanol and mohair subsidies, Planned Parenthood, corporate welfare windmills from GE, UNRWA subsidies (for jihad and anti-semitism in the West Bank), pork projects and other forms of credit-financed intergenerational looting.

Mattie Ross says at the film’s start, “You must pay for everything in this world in one way or another, except for the grace of God.” Strategic inaction on the debt ceiling by the House faithful will exact a price from Washington as it downsizes – and it’s the closest they will ever get to taming outlaws or miming the Founding Fathers. The people’s House has a once-in-a-century opportunity to bring conservative principles to Washington which could make the recently-feted Reagan Revolution pale by comparison.

Many differences exist now from the eras of Reagan (a grittier leader than leading actor) and that of the Clinton vs. Gingrich showdown: Fox News, conservative talk radio, and the right-wing blogosphere were smaller or non-existent. The debt at the end of Clinton’s presidency was under $6 trillion; it was below $3 trillion at the end of Reagan’s. During the Bush-Obama years, on the other hand, it has soared past $14 trillion – not counting unfunded liabilities for entitlements, including ObamaCare. Yet, while ObamaCare foes have bet their chips on constitutional challenges and de-funding strategies, the House GOP has yet to unholster its biggest weapon for outright repeal: Hiding Obama’s credit card.

The people are ready: A February 9 poll by Investor’s Business Daily shows that 70 percent of Americans (86 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats) oppose any hike in the U.S. debt limit. Among the Tea Party Patriots, it’s 94 percent. If the House hides the administration’s plastic right now, the president and his allies will demagogue like movie villains, yet Obama will have no responsible choice but to pay U.S. bondholders, Social Security recipients, soldiers and veterans timely after max-out. He’ll juggle cash by laying-off U.S. employees (welcome to the recession!) and by curtailing federal payouts not core to security.

Sunday’s top Oscar plaudits went to a film about a stammering leader who eventually found his voice. Similarly, Boehner and his House GOP must soon say, “Mr. President, don’t default on U.S. interest payments, scare the elderly or harm those in uniform, but use your best judgment on other cash priorities until you’re ready to join us in a grand, bipartisan deal to cut discretionaries, fix entitlements and the tax code, and send the states a balanced budget amendment.”

If Boehner chomps down now on the reins and gallops straight at the president and his gang, the House GOP’s big gun of strategic inaction on the debt cap can cut D.C. down to size. With sheer guts, Boehner’s Republicans can saddle Obama with that which, by means of his deficit-ridden, DOA 2012 budget, he has tried to shirk onto Congress: The burden of tough choices and bipartisan leadership. White House budget spokesman Kenneth Baer told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that every federal agency and department has a contingency plan for the event of a spending cut-off; it’s high time to implement them as the USA goes cold turkey on its addiction to borrowing. If House yellow-bellies turn tail to raise the debt ceiling, on the other hand, local Tea Party posses will surely hunt them down in 2012.

Spoiler alert: Brave Mattie and Rooster defeat their enemies and – albeit badly wounded – survive their wild ride. Boehner and his House GOP -- in power now because of the Tea Party -- can more than survive 2012 if they declare, right now, that they’ll hang tough on the debt limit -- rather than hang later in primaries. If House Republicans simply play their part, they’ll shine like heroes in the roles of a lifetime. The red carpet will be bloody, but Tea Party fans across the continent will rise in applause. We, and most Americans, are looking for some true grit.

Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler are co-founders of the Tea Party Patriots, the largest umbrella entity for local tea party groups. Andrew F. Quinlan, former senior advisor to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, is president of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Steven Baer, former president of the United Republican Fund of Illinois, is a private investor involved in financing, among other things, Hollywood films.