WASHINGTON – The level of cynicism driving GOP politics could harden the heart and petrify the hopes of even the most optimistic observer. For the latest evidence, just look at the current debate on raising the US debt ceiling.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke in the lobby of the Capitol building Wednesday morning, her words were as uncontroversial as they were urgent. “We have a responsibility to uphold the full faith and credit of the United States government,” he said. “It has to be done”.
His political opponents don’t argue with that. Here was Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell In the past week: “The United States must never fail to comply. We never have and never will, ”McConnell said. “The debt ceiling will go up, as it always should be.”
There is no political debate on this. Failure to raise the limit would catastrophically sink the US economy. TO recent study by Moody’s analytics estimates that a default would cost six million American jobs and destroy $ 15 trillion in family wealth.
Everyone agrees that this is bad.
And it would also be useless. The debt ceiling does not restrict new government spending measures, it only allows the government to pay bills already incurred, including those accrued by previous governments (about a third from the existing debt was accumulated under the presidency of Donald Trump).
That is why everyone on all sides agrees not only that the limit should be increased, but that has to be.
Yet Washington has been consumed this week with the prospect of a government shutdown followed by a debt default. Democrats tried Monday and Tuesday to pass a measure in the Senate that would provide continued funding to the government to avoid its shutdown on Friday morning, and raise the debt limit to avoid a default on October 18. Republicans, led by McConnell, have blocked those measures using the filibuster.
Why the hell would they do that?
The answer is among the most cynical statements you could make about the state of partisan politics in the United States: Republicans are poised to set their country’s economy on fire so they own the Liberals.
The debt ceiling should be raised, McConnell said last week. “But it will be raised by the Democrats.”
Republicans insist Democrats should use the upcoming budget reconciliation bill, which is exempt from obstructionism, to raise the debt ceiling on their own. Democrats may, and will likely end up, doing so, although there is some question whether they could do it in time, and the process is much slower and carries more risk of economic damage down the road.
But McConnell wants Democrats to take political responsibility for doing so, so that he and his party can use it in advertisements during next year’s Congressional elections.
But wait: since everyone agrees that raising the debt limit is good and necessary, shouldn’t it backfire?
Well, people are not very sophisticated in their understanding of these things. As Reuters reported last week, “A Morning Consult poll from September 18-20 showed that 42 percent of registered voters would blame both parties equally for any noncompliance, with another 33 percent blaming Democrats but only 16 percent blaming Republicans. ”
Look, if something bad happens and ruins the lives of millions of Americans and the world economy, twice as many Americans will blame Biden and the Democrats than the Republicans. Meanwhile, if Democrats go it alone, Republicans can pretend that Biden’s agenda and his party are to blame for the size of the debt.
See, for example, Republican Senator Ted Cruz. saying Democratic attempts to raise the debt cap are a way to get Republicans to “vote for massively irresponsible spending by Democrats,” which is blatantly false.. That falsehood is the party line. McConnell says his party raising the limit would allow Democrats “to get through partisan socialism as quickly as possible.”
To recap: Republicans say the debt limit should be raised. They say it will rise. But they also say voting to increase it will allow for “irresponsible spending” and “partisan socialism,” so only Democrats should do what needs to be done, so Republicans can blame them for doing it.
Notably, in July 2020, when Trump was still president and Republicans controlled the Senate, Democrats silently voted with Republicans to extend the debt ceiling until this year, establishing the current showdown. Readers with long memories will recall that confrontations over the debt limit have arisen before in the 1990s, and in 2006, 2011 and 2013. But in those earlier confrontations, such as the New York Times put it on Tuesday, the vote was being used as a “bargaining chip”: there was a political concession that the opposition was asking for in exchange for their votes.
This time there is no bargaining, just a pure and openly recognized partisan game to the advantage, with the American people and the world economy held hostage.
When observers claim That Republicans opposing Biden’s presidency are, let’s say, allowing the coronavirus to rage because they want Biden to be seen as not solving the problem, they may seem to be imagining a conspiracy as wild and fantastic as the foolish QAnon supporters. of Trump.
How cynical do you have to be to think that a political party would intentionally allow that kind of harm to its own country to gain a partisan advantage?
And yet here McConnell and the Republicans refuse to help prevent what they recognize will be a catastrophe, even though they recognize that preventing it is a good and necessary thing. And the only reason is that they want to blame the Democrats if it happens or, alternatively, blame the Democrats for the actions necessary to prevent it.
The question here is not how cynical you have to be to believe that a party would do this, it is very clear what they are doing. The question is, how much more cynical is it possible to get?