There’s no shortage of important issues competing for Americans’ attention, especially in the midst of an election season. Indeed, as early voting gets underway across much of the country, assorted candidates, parties, organizations and super PACs are working diligently to focus voters’ attention on various hopes and fears about the near future.
But there is a degree of irony to the circumstances: The one political fight that’s likely to matter most next year is the one thing most voters are hearing very little about.
With Republicans favored to take over the majority in the U.S. House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is preparing to become the House speaker. And while the California congressman doesn’t have much of a governing blueprint in mind — the GOP remains a post-policy party — McCarthy told Punchbowl News about one step he’s prepared to take once he’s in a position of real power.
Let’s start with the most sensitive item House Republicans will have to deal with — the debt limit. The nation’s statutory borrowing cap will need to be lifted at some point in 2023, probably during the second half of the year. McCarthy signaled that Republicans would again hold the debt limit up for policy changes.
The article added that the Republicans’ debt ceiling crisis from 2011 was a “debacle,” but GOP lawmakers “apparently are ready to try again in order to force ‘structural changes’ to popular entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare.”
“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News, indifferent to the fact that he and his party only raise these concerns when there’s a Democrat in the White House, only to promptly forget about the issue during Republican administrations.
The report went on to note, “We asked McCarthy if he intended to try to reform entitlements as part of the debt ceiling debate. McCarthy said he wouldn’t ‘predetermine’ anything.”
I’m mindful of the fact that for many news consumers, the moment they see phrases such as “debt ceiling” and “debt limit,” they stop reading. The idea that this might very well be the single most important issue of 2023 probably seems absurd.
But I hope at least some voters won’t get too hung up on the phrasing and will instead appreciate the fact that Republican leaders — by their own admission — are prepared to provoke a global financial crisis, on purpose.
McCarthy isn’t the only one admitting this out loud and on the record. The top GOP lawmakers planning to take control of the House Budget Committee have also talked openly about holding the debt ceiling hostage in order to force regressive policy changes, including possible cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
The process might seem complex to those who don’t follow legislative affairs closely, so let’s make this plain. Here’s how the fight would play out:
Republicans: It’s time for Democrats to slash public investments and agree to cuts to popular social insurance programs that benefit millions of families.
Republicans: No? Well, if you don't meet our demands, we’ll refuse to raise the debt ceiling.
Democrats: If you follow through on this threat, the result will be an economic crash that you’ve imposed on Americans on purpose.
Republicans: Then pay the ransom — or else.
The point is to put President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders in a position where they either have to accept cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare, or they’ll watch as Republicans force the United States into default on our obligations.
I keep writing about this because the GOP’s extortion plan is profoundly dangerous, and it would be the direct result of voters’ own choices. Republicans are prepared to crash the economy and trash the full faith and credit of the United States in order to achieve unpopular and regressive cuts that the public doesn’t want — and unless McCarthy and his cohorts are lying about their intentions, the only way to prevent this hostage crisis is to deny Republican candidates power.
Polls show many Americans are prepared to support GOP candidates because voters see them as credible on the economy. What these voters don’t seem to realize is that many of these same Republicans are prepared to put the economy at great risk — again, on purpose — in order to achieve unpopular policy goals.
If voters aren’t aware of this, they probably should be.