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

The nation's full faith and credit is not a 'leverage point'

About a week ago, National Review's Robert Costa reported that congressional Republicans are considering an incredibly dangerous new plan: they're prepared to
The House Republican leadership
The House Republican leadership

About a week ago, National Review's Robert Costa reported that congressional Republicans are considering an incredibly dangerous new plan: they're prepared to hold the nation's debt limit hostage again, creating a crisis comparable to the one we saw in the summer of 2011, unless Democrats agree to take health care benefits away from millions of Americans.

Earlier this week, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a prominent member of the House Democratic leadership, said he now sees this scenario as likely. And overnight, Reuters reported that another GOP debt-ceiling crisis appears to be on the way.

Republican lawmakers, who staunchly oppose President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, are considering using a fall showdown over the country's borrowing limit as leverage to try to delay the law's implementation.The idea is gaining traction among Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, aides said on Wednesday. An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the debt limit is a "good leverage point" to try to force some action on the healthcare law known as "Obamacare." [...]Republicans are weighing the tactic as an alternative to another approach that would involve denying funding for the law and threatening a possible government shutdown.

In other words, as we discussed last week, GOP leaders are effectively prepared to swap one hostage for another. Over the last several weeks, the message from many Republicans has been, "Help us sabotage the federal health care system or we'll shut down the government," but under this alternate scenario, the new threat is, "Help us sabotage the federal health care system or we'll trash the full faith and credit of the United States and crash the global economy on purpose."

As an objective matter, this is nothing short of madness. As Ezra Klein recently put it, "Trading a government shutdown for a debt-ceiling breach is like trading the flu for septic shock. And Boehner knows it. Republicans will effectively be going to the White House and saying, 'Delay the health-care law or we will single-handedly cause an unprecedented and unnecessary global financial crisis that everyone will clearly and correctly blame on us, destroying our party for years to come.' ... This is not a safe way to govern the country."

What's more, the fact that Cantor's office sees this as a "leverage point" says something important about how Republicans perceive their duties to the nation.

The Majority Leader's unnamed aide would probably be loath to admit it, but by framing the debate this way, he or she is making a concession: President Obama and congressional Democrats want what's best for the country; they don't want to see the country needlessly suffer; so when faced with a hostage standoff, Dems will see Republicans holding a gun to Americans' heads and pay the ransom.

In other words, the GOP sees the nation's fiscal duties as a "leverage point" because they assume Democrats are responsible public officials who want to protect Americans from harm. And I suppose that's not a horrible assumption to make.

The question, however, is why Republicans don't see themselves the same way.

In this scenario, we see congressional Republicans, elected by Americans to do what's right for Americans, threatening to cause deliberate harm to the country they ostensibly represent. They're instigating a hostage crisis, and they're the ones holding a gun to the nation's head, threatening to cause a calamity, on purpose, unless millions of Americans lose their health care benefits.

In this morality play, GOP officials aren't just the villains, acting against the best interests of the United States, they knowingly embrace this role. They seem to be saying to themselves, "Obama isn't as reckless as we are, so maybe we'll get what we want by threatening to hurt the country."

Brian Beutler's thesis is that this is an elaborate bluff, and we can all certainly hope that's the case. But the fact that congressional Republicans are even willing to play such a dangerously stupid, radical game reinforces a simple truth: these GOP lawmakers are less a governing party and more a group of intemperate children who like to play with matches.