Following up on an item from two months ago, Congressional Republicans have no reason to use the debt ceiling to hold the nation hostage again. None. The deficit is already shrinking with remarkable speed; the last GOP debt-ceiling crisis did real harm to the nation; GOP leaders have ruled out default; and Republican lawmakers themselves don’t even have anything specific in mind in terms of demands. There’s just no need to put Americans through this again.
But National Journal reports that House Republicans intend to do it anyway.
With an anxious eye toward the coming debt-ceiling negotiations, House Republicans are drafting what members call a “menu” of mandatory spending cuts to offer the White House in exchange for raising the country’s borrowing limit.
This menu is more a matrix of politically fraught options for the Obama administration to consider: Go small on cuts and get a short extension of the debt ceiling. Go big – by agreeing to privatize Social Security, for example – and get a deal that will raise the ceiling for the rest of Obama’s term.
It’s a strategy meant to show the GOP is ready to deal. But even conservatives admit that this gambit might do little to help them avoid blame should the negotiations reach a crisis stage.
We’ve reached a level of true madness here. We are, after all, talking about paying for things congressional Republicans have already bought, and so they have to raise the debt limit to avoid default. And yet, their official position is, in effect, “Give us a treat or we’ll start deliberately hurting Americans. No goodies = no peace.”
But it’s this “menu” that really rankles – Republicans will promise not to threaten to hurt Americans on purpose for a certain period of time, based on which part of Paul Ryan’s House GOP budget plan Democrats accept.
If Democrats agree to more means testing of Social Security benefits, Republicans will agree not to hold the nation hostage again for a short while.
If Democrats agree to cut food stamps for struggling families or block-grant Medicaid, Republicans will agree not to hold the nation hostage again for a slightly longer period of time.
And if Democrats agree to privatize social-insurance programs altogether, Republicans promise they won’t threaten to hurt the country again on purpose until after the president leaves office. How gracious of them.
This is dangerously stupid and reflects a degree of post-policy nihilism that’s hard to fully appreciate. This is arguably the single dumbest, manufactured, self-imposed crisis imaginable, but at least for now, it’s going to happen anyway.
For the last few months, the political world has been preoccupied with some ridiculous “scandal” narrative, hoping to tie together unrelated stories – which really weren’t that interesting anyway – to tell the public there are meaningful controversies unfolding in Washington. But so-called scandals like Benghazi and IRS scrutiny evaporated into nothing.
But if the political world is eager to fill the void, the debt-ceiling story strikes me as a genuine scandal. For the first time in generations, we have a major political party vowing to do deliberate harm to Americans unless their demands are met.
How is that not a scandal?
For its part, the Obama administration has said in no uncertain terms that it will not negotiate with those who would hold the nation’s wellbeing hostage. “We will not negotiate over the debt limit,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in writing in May. “The creditworthiness of the United States is non-negotiable. The question of whether the country must pay obligations it has already incurred is not open to debate.”