‘Default deniers’ demand to be heard


The Republicans’ debt-ceiling crisis tends to be a pretty straightforward hostage standoff. Both sides agree that piercing the debt ceiling would be disastrous, and one side is threatening to do it anyway unless its demands are met.

But there is another contingent – a group I call “default deniers” – that believes pushing the United States into default is just hunky dory. We heard from one of them, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), just last week.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews talked to another yesterday.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Matthews talked to Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who was terribly confused about the basics of the debt-ceiling fight he supports. After several awkward moments, the host asked the far-right congressman whether the U.S. defaulting on its debts matters. “Let me tell you what matters to the American people,” Perry said. “Trillion-dollar deficits unbridled with no plan to change it.”

That the United States isn’t running trillion-dollar deficits is another detail Perry doesn’t quite understand.

And then there was this gem in the New York Times:

Economists of all political persuasions have warned that a failure to raise the debt ceiling by the Treasury’s deadline of Oct. 17 could be catastrophic. The world economy’s faith in the safety of Treasury debt would be shaken for years. Interest rates could shoot up, and stock prices worldwide would most likely plummet.

“Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.”

Oh my.

A couple of weeks ago, I made the case that debt-ceiling polls are useless because most Americans simply don’t understand the basics. Regular folks have no idea what the debt ceiling is, what default is, what bond markets are, or what the full faith and credit of the United States means, so polling on the subject tells us nothing.

But what happens when elected federal lawmakers – the same people who have a responsibility to pay the nation’s bills – are every bit as ignorant as confused constituents?

During the last Republican debt-ceiling crisis, David Brooks wrote a genuinely terrific column questioning whether GOP lawmakers are even “fit to govern” anymore.

[T]he Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

Very little has changed in the two years since this was published.

Debt and Debt Ceiling

'Default deniers' demand to be heard