An expensive hostage strategy

Updated
 
An expensive hostage strategy
An expensive hostage strategy

Last year, for the first time in our history, literally every Republican on Capitol Hill held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage as part of an easily-avoidable debt-ceiling crisis. The GOP made a series of non-negotiable demands, and said they would crash the economy, on purpose, unless Democrats paid the ransom. It was a move without parallel in the American political tradition.

We’re still coming to terms with just how much damage this crisis did to the country. At one level, we know the GOP-instigated fiasco undermined the integrity of the nation and our reputation around the world, but there’s also ample evidence that the crisis undermined the economy, job market, and investor confidence.

Yesterday, we also learned that the crisis was expensive.

The fight last summer over whether to raise the debt ceiling increased the Treasury’s borrowing costs by about $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011, and the bill is expected to climb, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report released on Monday, the investigative arm of Congress found that the battle between Republicans and Democrats over the conditions to increase the debt limit to its current level of $16.4 trillion led to uncertainty in the debt markets and higher borrowing costs. It said that a full accounting would be available later. “Further,” a summary of the report read, “according to Treasury officials, the increased focus on debt limit-related operations as such delays occurred required more time and Treasury resources, and diverted Treasury’s staff away from other important cash and debt management responsibilities.”

This doesn’t include the costs associated with slower economic growth and lost jobs.

In case anyone’s forgotten, between 1939 and 2011, Congress raised the debt limit 89 times. That’s not a typo. The issue came up 89 times, and in 89 instances, Congress passed a clean bill. In fact, in two-thirds of these instances, there was a Republican president, and no one ever used the vote as leverage for a ransom.

But in 2011, everything changed, Republicans deliberately created this crisis, and it cost you, me, and every other American at least $1.3 billion.

And here’s the kicker: the GOP intends to do it all again next year.

As we discussed in May, Republicans should have been scarred by this crisis for a generation, but that didn’t happen. On the contrary, the GOP hostage takers freely admit they intend to re-create this identical crisis all over again, on purpose.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will threaten Tuesday that Congress will not raise the debt limit next year without spending cuts greater than the size of the debt ceiling increase.

According to excerpts of the remarks Boehner will deliver to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation fiscal summit on Tuesday afternoon, the Ohio lawmaker will “insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.” […]

He will also tell the audience: “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

It’s not hyperbolic to characterize this as madness. Boehner has, in no uncertain terms, said he and his party are prepared to deliberately hurt the country – and he’s labeled this hostage-taking strategy an “action-forcing event.”

In a way, it’s true that holding a gun to someone’s head forces “action,” but it’s also true that such aggression tears at the fabric of the body politic.

We knew this would happen, of course. After the crisis was resolved last summer, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein explained, “Those who have engaged in hostage-taking – threatening the economy and the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury to get their way – will conclude that their strategy worked. They will feel emboldened to pursue it again every time that we have to raise the debt limit in the future.”

And that’s exactly what has unfolded. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News that the GOP-created crisis “set the template for the future.” He vowed, “We’ll be doing it all over” in 2013.

Everyone involved in creating this fiasco should, if decency mattered in politics, be hiding, praying that voters can’t find them. The notion that the same people who did this to us would seek re-election – and fully expect to win – seems absurd.

And yet, here we are.

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An expensive hostage strategy

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