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Inviting disaster, a Republican ‘pro-default’ caucus takes shape

On the debt ceiling, some Republicans are pointing a gun at the economy, seeking a ransom. Other Republicans have already decided to pull the trigger.


When it comes to the Republican Party’s burgeoning debt ceiling crisis, the party has had two broad camps. The first has argued that the GOP is prepared to cause an economic catastrophe, on purpose, unless Democrats agree to meet ambitious demands that Republicans don’t want to identify.

The second has said that GOP is justified in threatening to impose a deliberate economic catastrophe, but this Republican faction expects Democrats to meet more modest demands. Like the first contingent, this GOP group has also refused to go into detail about their plan.

But we’re starting to see a third faction take shape. Members of this camp, oddly enough, are saying that they don’t much care whether Democrats pay a ransom or not — because they’ll oppose a debt ceiling increase either way. Semafor ran this head-shaking report late yesterday:

Put down Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn. as a hard “no” on lifting the debt ceiling later this year. The Congressman told Semafor in a Wednesday phone interview that he doesn’t see a circumstance in which he casts a vote to reauthorize the US’s ability to repay its bills. ... To be clear, this isn’t a tossed-off gotcha or an answer based on a misheard question about government shutdowns versus default. He gave similar comments to CNN, and Semafor asked and re-asked and texted again after the interview to clarify his position. He’s a no, full stop.

Burchett, who opposed raising the debt limit since he was first elected five years ago, explained: “I’ve made commitments and I’ve run on fiscal responsibility.”

In this context, I honestly don’t know what that means. Since when is it fiscally responsible for the United States to refuse to pay its bills, default on its obligations, and cause an avoidable economic catastrophe on purpose?

The Tennessee Republican also told Semafor, in reference to what would happen if the United States refuses to act: “We just tell the world we’ve reached a limit. The consequences, of course, are shutting the government down.”

About a month ago, after some House GOP members equated the debt ceiling and government shutdowns, The Washington Post reported that House Republican leaders were embarking on “an education campaign to make sure their members understand how the debt limit works,” with a special emphasis on explaining “the difference between a garden-variety government shutdown and a potential debt default.”

Evidently, the education campaign isn’t going especially well.

But even putting that aside, Burchett’s position is effectively pro-default: No matter what, he will apparently oppose efforts to allow the government to pay its bills. It’s a position that’s considerably worse that the Republicans’ official line: GOP leaders are pointing a gun at the economy, saying they’ll pull the trigger unless Democrats pay a ransom. Burchett’s argument is that he intends to pull the trigger whether a ransom is paid or not.

What’s more, the Tennessean isn’t alone. It was less than a month ago when Republican Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana said he’ll also oppose a debt ceiling increase — even if a proposed increase addressed “every” one of his priorities.

As we discussed soon after, this creates a dynamic that, to put it mildly, is challenging. On the one hand, there are GOP leaders who insist on negotiating their way out of a hostage crisis they initiated. On the other hand, there are GOP members who don’t see the point of even bothering with negotiations at all.

How are Democrats supposed to proceed? By talking to Republicans who refuse to identify their demands, or by focusing on Republicans who’ve already decided to do the wrong thing?