Blood, The Debt Limit and Discretionary Spending

In this morning’s NY Times Opinion Pages, Op-Ed columnist and economist Paul Krugman brings up the topic of newly appointed co-chairman of the deficit commission and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson’s oddly sadistic remarks regarding the pending spring showdown over the debt limit.

So here’s what the very serious Mr. Simpson said on Friday: “I can’t wait for the blood bath in April. … When debt limit time comes, they’re going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now? We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give ’em a piece of meat, real meat,’ ” meaning spending cuts. “And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary,” he continued.

If you close your eyes you can see the exchange playing out like that scene from Pulp Fiction:

Simpson: Bring out the Gimp.
House Republicans: Gimp’s sleeping.
Simpson: Well, I guess you’re gonna have to go wake him up now, won’t you?

Krugman goes on to explain what it is that has Mr. Simpson readying the ball-gag.

There’s a legal limit to federal debt, which must be raised periodically if the government keeps running deficits; the limit will be reached again this spring. And since nobody, not even the hawkiest of deficit hawks, thinks the budget can be balanced immediately, the debt limit must be raised to avoid a government shutdown. But Republicans will probably try to blackmail the president into policy concessions by, in effect, holding the government hostage; they’ve done it before.

Now, you might think that the prospect of this kind of standoff, which might deny many Americans essential services, wreak havoc in financial markets and undermine America’s role in the world, would worry all men of good will. But no, Mr. Simpson “can’t wait.” And he’s what passes, these days, for a reasonable Republican.

All kidding aside, this is a real impending dilemma that threatens to shut down the Federal Government and it is clear that House Republicans are not willing to look at seriously. For example, the night of the 2010 midterm elections as Chris Matthews faced on after another glowing Republican looking to spin their victory as a mandate to cut Federal spending. Each was asked specifically what Discretionary spending they were willing to cut and each to the letter refused to be clear on the matter.


So what does qualify as discretionary spending? David Sirota has a recent post up at Open Left that put forth this clarifying infographic:

Discretionary Spending, Courtesy of

So the question remains; when the impending show-down occurs what discretionary spending will the Republicans be willing to cut? From the looks of the above infographic, nothing will matter unless they are either willing to cut Defense spending or do as many Democrats have proposed and raise the debt ceiling.

UPDATE: I wish to thank Elspeth Reeve for linking to me from The Atlantic Wire for the third time in as many weeks.

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