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Political hostage taking should never be normalized

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) freely admits, without a hint of shame or regret, that he intends to hold the debt ceiling hostage until
Political hostage taking should never be normalized
Political hostage taking should never be normalized

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) freely admits, without a hint of shame or regret, that he intends to hold the debt ceiling hostage until Democrats accept deep cuts in social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare. Indeed, McConnell yesterday urged Democrats to act quickly, "rather than waiting until the last minute."

That's right, Mitch McConnell isn't just planning to hold the nation's economy hostage, he's already complaining about the speed with which Democrats will pay the ransom.

It's not just McConnell, of course. Every member of the congressional Republican leadership in both chambers is saying the same thing: President Obama may not want to negotiate over the debt ceiling, but as far as the GOP is concerned, the president doesn't have "any choice."

How many Republicans are standing up to say this is wrong and that their party shouldn't deliberately put the global economy at risk? So far, zero.

As the process picks up and the fight grows more intense, there's quite a bit to be afraid of, but one of the things I worry about at this stage is a false sense of routinization -- much of the political world has already started to look at debt-ceiling fights as routine, which is the exact opposite of reality. It's a manufactured crisis -- and a legitimate national scandal -- that was largely unthinkable before 2011, which the GOP hopes to normalize with the media's help.

Take this New York Times article, for example.

With the resolution of the year-end fiscal crisis just hours old, the next political confrontation is already taking shape as this city braces for a fight in February over raising the nation's borrowing limit. But it is a debate President Obama says he will have nothing more to do with. [...][I]t once again sets the stage for a nail-biting standoff that economists warn could lead to a damaging financial default and doubt from investors about the ability of the country to pay its obligations. [...]Now, the president and Mr. Boehner are signaling a fresh round of take-it-or-leave it stands that are in sharp opposition: The president says increasing the borrowing limit is nonnegotiable, while Republicans say the House is all but certain to pass a bill that raises the debt limit only in exchange for significant cuts -- a challenge to Mr. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

At first blush, there's nothing especially wrong with this. It's true that Republicans are saying one thing, Democrats are saying something else, and if there's no progress, we're all in trouble.

But the NYT piece makes it seem as if this is normal. It's not.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: congressional Republicans are threatening to hurt Americans on purpose. They can rationalize the need for the threat, and perhaps even justify to themselves why the threat has merit, but that doesn't change the basic fact that GOP officials know the debt ceiling must be raised, they know failing to do so would trash the full faith and credit of the United States and likely cause catastrophic harm to the economy, they know lawmakers in both parties routinely raised the debt ceiling 89 times without precondition between 1939 and 2010, and yet, they're going through with this anyway.

There's nothing normal about this, and if the political establishment treats it as yet another partisan dispute, it will get this story wrong. In 2011, when Republicans created a brutal debt-ceiling, it not only damaged the country, it was the first time since the Civil War when an entire political party threatened, en masse, to do deliberate harm to the nation. And now, even after faring poorly in national elections, Republicans are poised to commit an act of political violence all over again.

What's more, as Greg Sargent keeps trying to explain to the political establishment, the entire argument has been twisted to the point at which raising the debt ceiling -- i.e., policymakers doing what they are required to do to prevent a default -- is somehow seen as Republicans making a concession, doing what they'd prefer not to do. That's insane, not only because Republicans have spent generations raising the debt ceiling without incident, but also because it's not a concession to do what's expected and required of you.

As Greg explained yesterday, "People need to stop pretending this is business as usual and start calling this out for what it is."