Debt Ceiling Brinkmanship Is Just Republican Hostage-Taking

I have full faith that the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives will wreck the economy, and I give them full credit for that disastrous notion. That is my commitment to full faith and credit as I watch this whole unfolding mess in Washington. From the Washington Post:

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told lawmakers that officials will alter certain federal investments to preserve the nation’s credit until summer — largely through technical moves that will buy lawmakers time to pass legislation that raises or suspends the amount the government is allowed to borrow, currently capped at $31.4 trillion. “I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” Yellen wrote to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday. Newly emboldened House Republicans are trying to leverage the standoff to extract major spending cuts, insisting that previous Congresses and administrations have spent too much on social programs. Some GOP lawmakers have even raised the prospect of seeking changes to entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare. But the White House has said it will not negotiate on the debt ceiling, and President Biden has pledged to oppose any attempt to cut entitlements.

The debt ceiling is an anachronism the way lead paint is an anachronism. By now, we should know better than to eat paint chips, and the Congress should know better than to muck around with the debt ceiling. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made now to get rid of the debt ceiling entirely. Unfortunately, it has become such a political weapon against Democratic presidents that it is impossible to imagine a Republican congressional majority of any kind unilaterally laying it down.

As these things go, we are still in the Wishful Thinking stage of this very predictable crisis. A representative from Moody’s told the Post that “a debt limit impasse will likely be resolved before a missed interest payment occurs because of public, political and financial market pressures on Congress reflecting concerns about the potentially severe consequences that a missed payment could have on financial markets and the economy.” And some people actually believe that a) moderate Republicans will be reasonable on this; b) moderate Republicans are honest brokers in the whole business; and c) that moderate Republicans are actually, well, moderate.

Good luck with that. From CNN:

“I don’t think that a clean debt ceiling is in order, and I certainly don’t think that a default is in order,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate whose Pennsylvania district Biden carried, told CNN, indicating he planned to engage in bipartisan talks next week over a compromise proposal when lawmakers return to Washington[…]”I’m not in favor of Biden’s no-negotiating strategy, and I’m not inclined to help,” said Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican whose Nebraska district Biden carried, indicating Republicans campaigned against government spending and inflation. “The GOP can’t demand the moon, and Biden can’t refuse to negotiate. There needs to be give-and-take on both sides.”

Bacon said there needs to be “good faith” talks with the White House and some “commitment for fiscal restraint” before he would even consider signing onto a discharge petition. Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York freshman who also hails from a Biden district, said that Democrats aren’t going to be able to work around McCarthy and the House GOP majority. “They need to come to a realization pretty quickly they are no longer in a one-party controlled government, and it requires negotiation,” Lawler told CNN, adding that it’s “very rational and reasonable” for two parties to meet in the middle. “It’s not Republicans acquiescing to Democrats.”

“Our debt is not sustainable, and the White House insisting on more debt without budget reform isn’t serious,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, who hails from a South Carolina swing district, called it an “inherent problem that we must get serious about.”

Except, of course, that one has nothing to do with the other, which is why what the Republicans are doing is pure extortion. But don’t worry, the Useful Idiot Caucus is on the case.

Fitzpatrick, a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told CNN that he plans to engage next week in discussions within that group about a new plan to change the law on how the debt limit is set. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat and co-leader of the bipartisan group, confirmed that the members are trying to work on a bipartisan deal. “We’re working together because we have to find a bipartisan way forward,” Gottheimer said. “There’s simply too much at stake.”

And just when you thought there was one too many cooks stirring this broth of bad faith, another makes his inevitable appearance. From Bloomberg Government:

Manchin (W.Va.) said he already discussed a possible compromise with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), whose fractious caucus has sought to extract concrete spending cuts and a balanced budget plan in exchange for any increase in the debt ceiling. Manchin, speaking to Fox Business in Davos, Switzerland, where he’s attending the World Economic Forum, said he wants to package a debt ceiling increase with votes to create special commissions to examine shoring up the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, as well as another intended to reduce the overall US debt. “We have to work together. It has to be bipartisan and it has always been bipartisan as far as the debt ceiling,” Manchin said. “I think what we have to do is realize we have a problem, we have a debt problem.” Manchin said he supports the Trust Act, a proposal by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to impanel commissions to recommend solutions to the eventual insolvency of the Medicare and Social Security trust funds.

Are we really going back to the Trust Act? That unholy adoptee of the defunct Simpson-Bowles commission—one of the most worthless expenditures of time and money in the history of modern American politics, a commission that couldn’t even agree on its own proposals but announced them anyway—and probably President Barack Obama’s biggest fiscal mistake? Both Simpson and Bowles love the Trust Act, which is reason enough for the rest of us not to trust a dipthong of it.

This is extortion, pure and simple, and the sooner everybody opposed to extortion explains it just that way, the sooner we can get rid of the mechanism itself and pay our damn bills. I mean, the federal government shouldn’t be a deadbeat just because the past president was.

Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot Americaand has been a working journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children.

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