Tony Abbott and the debt ceiling playbook

The Government should be forced to specifically justify this, not to just sweep it under the carpet and allow it to go through in the appropriations because by convention the Opposition doesn’t oppose the appropriations. I think we do need to take a very, very seriously critical look at this question of the debt ceiling. I’m not saying that, having looked at it critically, we would necessarily oppose it, but the Government has to justify this. Our money, our future, is too important to be mortgaged like this without the Government giving us the strongest possible arguments for it, because every dollar that they borrow has got to be repaid.

Tony Abbott on 2GB with Alan Jones, 11 May

Tony Abbott had decided that he is not going to just copy the extreme Republican tactics of opposition and obstruction, but he is also going to import their disastrous tactic of targeting the debt ceiling.

The debt ceiling stand-off in the USA was a disaster — it removed the US’s Triple A credit rating for the first time in history, and delayed and diverted the attention of Congress and the President from the real task of creating jobs and getting the US out of the recession.

In Australia, Abbott is testing the waters in preparation for the upcoming election. With every economic measure showing favourably for the Labor government — low debt, low interest-rates, high employment, rising productivity, ad nauseam — Abbott desperately needs to tie the culture/values war to an economic issue.

(If you want to know the reason why the debt ceiling rises, here’s a link to the budget papers.)

The debt ceiling, a relatively obscure and esoteric part of the budget, is just that issue. And Abbott has a play book to follow.

Over in the USA, it looks like the Republicans are taking a second look at the debt ceiling debate:

…in the run-up to the election, it will help clarify for voters what the Republican agenda is: low taxes, deep cuts to domestic spending programs, and a take-no-prisoners approach to achieving it. To this end, Boehner plans to pass a full extension of the Bush tax cuts later this year and blame Dems for their looming expiration.

If they run on this and lose, they’d be testing the limits of democratic accountability to press ahead with the debt-limit strategy anyhow — especially in a lame duck session. But if they run on it and win then they’ll have a fair claim to make dramatic changes to how the federal government collects and spends money.

So, basically the debt ceiling debate is a war drum for the Republicans to beat, sounding the mantra of low-tax, small government. For Abbott, it’s the same. Although in Australia, the debt ceiling expands with the size of the economy, Abbott is simply using it as a short-hand for the conservative, small government types — and to create a differentiation between himself and the government.

It may be clever politics, but it is terrible policy.


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