At some point over the next month or so, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling or risk causing catastrophic economic consequences. There are no other options: either lawmakers pay the nation’s bills or the United States defaults on its obligations, causing untold damage to the global economy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), true to form, said on “Fox News Sunday” that it’d be “irresponsible” of lawmakers to simply pay the nation’s bills.
“I think for the president to ask for a clean debt ceiling when we have the debt the size of our economy is irresponsible.“So, we ought to discuss adding something to his request to raise the debt ceiling that does something about the debt or produces at least something positive for our country.”
It’s very hard to believe McConnell actually believes his own talking points. Indeed, it’s impossible. Earlier this month, Congress approved a bipartisan budget plan that funds the federal government. Just, two weeks later, McConnell is telling the world Congress won’t pay for the spending it just approved unless President Obama gives Republicans some kind of treat.
It would be, McConnell suggested, “irresponsible” to avoid a debt-ceiling crisis.
McConnell is hardly alone; many Republican lawmakers are making similar threats. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said over the weekend that the White House will have to give congressional Republicans something “impressive” in order to entice GOP officials to do their duty and avoid crashing the economy on purpose.
And what, pray tell, might this “impressive” gift be? What do Republicans want before they start hurting Americans on purpose? By all accounts, they’re still working on the ransom note in this latest hostage strategy, but they appear to have narrowed the list to the Keystone XL pipeline or eliminating “risk corridors” in the Affordable Care Act in the hopes that consumers will be forced to pay higher premiums.
What do either of these have to do with the debt McConnell claims to be concerned about? Nothing. His rhetoric and his agenda appear to be resting on a foundation of gibberish.
The obvious question then becomes how concerned Americans should be about Republicans pulling the trigger, shooting the hostage, and causing deliberate and widespread harm.
The smart money says Republicans are bluffing. Last spring, Republicans said they’d crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats met vague demands; Obama said he wouldn’t negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States; and Republicans backed down. Last fall, Republicans took the same hostage; the president offered the same response; and GOP lawmakers backed down once more.
Indeed, even yesterday on Fox News, McConnell specifically told host Chris Wallace, “We’re never going to default. The Speaker and I made that clear. We’ve never done that. But it’s irresponsible not to use the discussion, the request of the president to raise the debt ceiling, to try to accomplish something for the country.”
Let me translate that into English: “We’re going to hold the nation hostage again, but we’ll have to let the hostage go. But it’d be irresponsible not to take the hostage to see if the president might give us something we want without us having to work for it.”
By this reasoning, the fight is already over before it even starts. If the same guy threatening default says, “We’re never going to default,” we can safely ignore the latest right-wing gambit as a silly game, right?
Well, probably. Remember, Republicans aren’t just playing a dangerous game with our money, they’re also putting their own reputations at risk. If GOP leaders know they have no choice but to eventually cave, it’s in their interest to downplay expectations and lay the groundwork for a responsible course.
They’re doing the opposite, which will make the unavoidable surrender more embarrassing and politically painful. Worse, many of those who’ll lead the way in retreating are engaged in primary fights back home.
There’s a non-zero chance, in other words, that congressional Republicans will crash the economy on purpose because GOP leaders are worried about losing to a primary challenger.