Former Cheney Aide a Driver in Debt Debate

David Addington, who worked as chief of staff to George W. Bush's vice president, pushes the tea-party line from his post at the Heritage Foundation

David Addington - Mandel Ngan Getty - banner.jpg

With the United States moving closer to a historic debt default, both parties are bringing out the big guns. Democrats have senior administration officials like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warning that a failure to strike a deal will push the fragile economy back into recession. Republicans have prominent conservative economists like former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin arguing that any deal should primarily involve spending cuts.

But the debate doesn't simply involve warring economists. Instead, one of the louder voices belongs to David Addington, the architect of the George W. Bush administration's harsh interrogation policies and a former chief of staff for then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

Addington has taken on a new role as enforcer of tea party dogma during the intensifying partisan bickering over the debt ceiling. From his perch as the Heritage Foundation's vice president for domestic and economic policy, Addington is throwing verbal thunderbolts at House Speaker John Boehner's current debt-ceiling proposal, which he argues will pave the way to tax increases.

The merits of Addington's arguments about the need to oppose Boehner's proposals are in some ways less interesting than the simple fact that Addington is the one publicly making them. Addington kept a low profile during the Bush years, granting no interviews and largely shunning lawmakers from either party. But he wielded enormous power behind the scenes, helping Cheney craft the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program and most of its detention initiatives.

Critics of those policies say they're horrified by Addington's reemergence onto the public stage.

"To see this person who led the country into legal and moral disaster resurface as a respected commentator is somewhat galling," said Ben Wizner, the litigation director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "Addington was as responsible as anyone else for the U.S. becoming a torturing nation. He has done damage to the U.S. that will take decades to reverse."

Addington didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment, but Heritage Foundation spokesman James Weidman noted that Addington had handled domestic issues for Cheney as well as national-security ones.

"There being no weightier domestic or econ policy at this particular time than the debt-limit negotiations, he's our top dog in that area and that's why he's weighing in on it," Weidman said. "I realize that his career has been largely focused on security issues but then again that started to change when he went to work for Cheney because his portfolio covered the waterfront there, domestic as well as foreign and defense."

Presented by

Yochi J. Dreazen

Yochi Dreazen is writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

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