Don't underrate debt victory
All seven Republican federal lawmakers from South Carolina voted against the debt-ceiling deal. Fortunately, it passed anyway, and President Obama signed it into law on Tuesday, less than 11 hours before the midnight deadline. Otherwise, the U.S. government faced potential default and a virtually certain credit-rating downgrade.
So why did our five GOP House members and two senators in Washington want to take those risks? Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, summed up their fiscally conservative case against the legislation Tuesday: "We haven't changed direction in Washington. We're just tapping the brakes as we speed toward a fiscal cliff."
Our lone Democrat in Congress, House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn, voted for the bill, though he said its "many concessions" made it "a difficult choice."
The bill's difficulties for the S.C. Republicans included its addition of $7 trillion in debt over the next 10 years -- not much of an improvement over the previously projected $10 trillion. They also were wary of the new House-Senate "super committee" that might eventually recommend putting new taxes into the debt-reduction mix.
But that doesn't mean that the Republicans who gave the accord solid majorities in the House (174-66) on Monday night and Senate (28-19) on Tuesday have suddenly become tax-and-spend enthusiasts. They were just taking what they could get while Republicans control only the House and Democrats control the Senate and White House.
And judging from the numerous sore debt-deal losers on the left, it can't be all bad from the spending-restraint perspective. House Democrats split 95-95 on the bill.
The agreement contains no tax hikes. That's a remarkable victory for conservatives who have long shared the view, echoed by many Republicans, that "Washington doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem."
But at some practical point, conservatives should stop letting blanket opposition to tax increases warp into blanket opposition to tax changes that could produce revenue increases. Though curtailing spending must be the top deficit-reduction priority, tax changes that elevate revenues would also help to close that gap.
Presidents John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, and Ronald Reagan, a Republican, both pushed through tax cuts on the proven grounds that lower tax rates can, when timed right, generate higher revenues. Last month, former President Bill Clinton, another Democrat, advocated cutting the corporate tax rate.
Conservatives have long pushed for reforms to simplify our inefficient federal tax system. Ideally, such changes would motivate investment, innovation and hiring. Yet if any alteration that can be branded a tax increase is forbidden, that overdue transformation will be even harder to attain.
Our state's seven Republican "no" voters have underrated the debt-ceiling (and debt-reduction) deal. Though far from perfect, it recognizes that we must get federal spending under control.
Fiscal conservatives, including those who mistakenly opposed this necessary bill, should learn to recognize a victory when they see it.