The United States reached the debt limit yesterday, starting the countdown toward a possible default and an economic catastrophe. “I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in a letter yesterday to congressional leaders.
In theory, this should be easy. Congress can simply extend the nation’s borrowing authority, allowing the government to pay its bills and meet its obligations, at which point we could all focus our attention elsewhere. It’s what policymakers from both parties have done several dozen times over the course of the last century. It’s effectively paperwork that costs nothing and takes very little time. It happened three times during Donald Trump’s presidency, and barely anyone even noticed.
But in practice, it’s proving not to be easy at all: The new House Republican majority has said it will only do what needs to be done if Democrats meet the GOP’s unspecified demands.
The New York Times published a report yesterday on the increasingly dangerous threat to the public.
As Republicans vow to extract spending cuts in exchange for an increase in the debt limit, [House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy insists it is [President Joe] Biden and his allies in Congress who are acting cavalierly by refusing in advance to negotiate on [spending] reductions, and they who are risking upheaval if they do not shift their position. The clear inference is that whatever happens will be the fault of Mr. Biden and Senate Democrats.
For those who understand the relevant details, this is a difficult paragraph to read. Republicans have launched a hostage crisis in which they’re effectively pointing a gun at the economy, threatening to pull the trigger unless Democrats pay a ransom. Democratic leaders have responded that elected officials should simply do their job. They won’t — and by some measures, can’t — reward those engaged in an extortion plot.
The folks holding the gun, and preparing to shoot the hostage, want the public to blame the folks who aren’t taking the hostage takers’ phone call.
The Times’ article added:
“Why create a crisis over this?” Mr. McCarthy told reporters this week, suggesting there did not have to be one if only the president and congressional Democrats would cooperate. “We’ve got a Republican House, Democratic Senate, and you’ve got the president there. I think it is arrogant to say we are not going to negotiate about anything.”
First, the White House never said it wouldn’t negotiate about “anything”; Team Biden said it wouldn’t negotiate over an unnecessary debt-ceiling hostage standoff. It’s a defensible position for any president to take: To negotiate with those threatening to harm Americans is to encourage others to threaten to harm Americans.
Second, McCarthy’s question — “Why create a crisis over this?” — is so utterly bonkers that it’s hard to believe he said this out loud, on the record, on purpose.
I realize “gaslighting” has become an overused term, but in this case, it’s hardly unreasonable: The Republican leader creating a crisis is asking why his opponents are creating a crisis.
Reality in this instance couldn’t be clearer: Democrats want the nation to pay its bills and meet its obligations. The party wants this to happen without games, without conditions, without unnecessary drama, and without delay. It expects Congress to handle the matter the same way generations of policymakers have handled the matter.
This isn’t “creating a crisis.” This is the opposite.
The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell framed this well in a recent column:
Imagine if Republican lawmakers threatened to blow up the Washington Monument unless Democrats agreed to cut Social Security. It would be understandable if President Biden and his party refused to haggle on such abhorrent terms, and said they wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists. Pretty much the same form of extortion is happening right now, only the bomb is aimed at a different target: the global economy. And Republicans are already trying to blame Democrats for any carnage that might result. Don’t let them.
Maybe McCarthy doesn’t understand his own tactics. Maybe the GOP speaker cynically assumes the public won’t understand his own tactics. Either way, to fall for the “Why create a crisis over this?” nonsense is to deny the plain truth about a genuinely dangerous Republican plot.