IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Even now, too many Republicans struggle with debt ceiling basics

As congressional Republicans move forward with a debt ceiling plan that threatens to crash the economy, how familiar are they with the basics?


After President Joe Biden admonished House Republicans for putting veterans’ benefits at risk with their debt ceiling plan, GOP members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee said the White House deserved “bottomless Pinocchios” for making such a claim.

“President Biden has been in Washington for 50 years and has voted for countless budget resolutions,” they wrote via Twitter. “No budget resolution has ever explicitly said what programs would be funded, changed, or protected.”

Part of the problem with this is that the Republicans’ bill could’ve explicitly protected veterans’ care, but the party chose not to include any such provisions. But just as important is the fact that the pushback didn’t make sense: The GOP members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee pointed to how budget resolutions work, despite the fact that the Republicans’ debt ceiling bill is most certainly not a budget resolution. (Speaker Kevin McCarthy initially vowed to pursue a budget plan, but he broke that promise months ago.)

It reminded me of an unfortunate question that’s long lingered in the background: As congressional Republicans move forward with a plan that threatens to crash the economy, how familiar are they with the basics?

In late January, The Washington Post reported that GOP leaders were “embarking on an education campaign to make sure their members understand how the debt limit works, the consequences of failing to raise the ceiling, and the difference between a garden-variety government shutdown and a potential debt default.” It was seen as necessary, the article added, because a few too many House Republicans had “made statements on social media or in interviews that show a lack of understanding about the policy details.”

That was months ago. As recently as last week, however, as the House prepared to vote on the GOP’s ransom note, the Post’s Dana Milbank heard lingering confusion from members who are supposed to understand what’s happening.

Coming out of [the GOP caucus] meeting, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) still seemed confused about what happens when the government defaults. ... “Let the Senate shut the government down,” he proclaimed. “Let them take the heat for shutting it down.”

As we’ve discussed, the debt ceiling and government shutdowns have effectively nothing to do with one another. It’s the sort of rudimentary detail that Norman, who served on the House Budget Committee, really ought to understand by now. (He’s not the only GOP member who’s been wrong about this.)

Coming out of the same caucus meeting a week ago today, Republican Rep. Tim Burchett told reporters that the United States wouldn’t default. Asked why not, the Tennessean replied, “I think September’s the actual drop-dead date, so we’re good.”

The Treasury Department had already told Congress that the deadline — the so-called “x date” — will likely arrive in June, but there was Burchett, expressing confidence that the “actual” deadline is still months away.

As the process advances, and the deadline draws near, incompetence won’t help resolve the Republican-imposed crisis. Perhaps another “education campaign” is in order?