While House Republicans were busy chewing each other to pieces and producing an 11-hour telethon for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, they weren’t doing their most basic duty: paying our bills.
It’s called the raising the debt limit. It was raised 18 times under Ronald Reagan and 7 times under George W. Bush who inherited a surplus that if left untouched could have completely eliminated our entire debt.
If it isn’t raised in the week our so, our economy would explode like Jeb Bush’s hopes of becoming president.
The debt limit has always been “political theater” because it’s nonsensical. Why should Congress have to vote again to pay for spending that has been signed into law under the process laid out in the Constitution, especially when the Constitution requires us to pay for debts to be paid? It’s an arcane technicality that has become an ever alluring suicide switch under this Republican Party.
Just the threat of not raising it in 2011 resulted in one of the worst one-day stock market crashes ever.
The result would almost certainly be a made-to-order depression. The dollar would likely plunge as interest rates skyrocket, unemployment explodes, and the years of your life you’ve put into your 401(k) are erased in minutes. The party that “accidentally” wrecked the economy under George W. Bush would be doing the same thing — but on purpose.
The American economy is one of the best, if not the best in the world. Layoffs are now lower than ever recorded per capita. We’re completely solvent and any threat of an actual debt crisis is decades away — unless we don’t raise the debt limit.
And the Tea Party Freedom Caucus is claiming they won’t raise it unless the president agrees to cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
What has the president been offered in return after making concessions to get an increase in 2011? Nothing.
Because the GOP has spent the last six years nurturing and catering to extremists, disaster is more likely than ever. Here’s why.
1. GOP leaders have fed the lie that we don’t need to raise the debt limit.
The more likely you are to believe that carbon pollution isn’t fueling global warming, the more likely you are to believe not raising the debt limit is no big whoop and wouldn’t lead to default — or at least to say that in public.
It wasn’t just frazzled Tea Partiers spouting this nonsense in 2011, it was the current “establishment” choice to be the next Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. who argued we could go “a day or two or three or four” not paying our debts without defaulting. The New Republic‘s Brian Beutler points out that Paul Ryan voted against raising it in February, 2014. This could be interpreted as politics as usual. The president himself voted against increasing the limit as he ran for his first term, knowing that there were enough votes to pass.
But just the fact that Obama wants to raise the debt limit now is enough for most Republicans to oppose it. And the fiction that the debt ceiling can be breached without any serious consequences has led to intransigence that may be impossible to overcome.
2. The party can’t get 218 votes to take a bathroom break.
“Boehner, McCarthy, and other GOP leaders are refusing at this point to move ahead with a ‘clean’ debt ceiling bill insisted on by President Barack Obama,” Politico reported on Friday. “Senior leadership aides said they couldn’t find the 30 Republican votes needed to join with all 188 Democrats to pass that proposal — a bleak indication of the current state of play.”
There aren’t 30 Republicans willing to take a vote that will save the U.S. economy.
Republicans won’t take a vote to raise the limit until after the vote to elect the next Speaker, which means the first major vote the next leader of the House GOP caucus takes will be one of the most purposely confused and potentially destructive.
“This calendar of chaos… is really coming down to hours, days, weeks,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week
3. Paul Ryan hasn’t been able to get his demands from the House Freedom Caucus met.
When he decided to run for Speaker, Rep. Ryan included a demand that House rescind the rule that kept a perpetual gun to the head of Speaker John Boehner — the motion to vacate. With it, any member of the GOP caucus can call what is essentially a no-confidence vote on the caucus’ leader. The Freedom Caucus said they wouldn’t be willing to give him that concession. Already, Ryan has backed off that demand, suggesting that he’ll be soon be cornered by the party’s far right the way Boehner has been.
The 30 to 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus are from districts so white and conservative that their lawn jockeys have lawn jockeys. The only fear they have is disappointing the most irrational members of their party. And that will soon be Paul Ryan’s biggest fear.
4. We’re in the middle of the most acrimonious nonsensical GOP primary ever.
How do you tell a party base that is backing Donald Trump and Ben Carson to be reasonable, and compromise for the good of the nation?
You don’t. You don’t even try. You just hope somehow someone else takes the vote for you and you don’t get a well-funded primary challenger.
5. If something can go wrong with this GOP, it usually does.
The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent has done a yeoman’s job of describing what he thinks is at the heart of the Freedom Caucus’ motivations: It’s all about the money.
They will accept failure because it gives them a chance to raise more cash by ranting against the “establishment.” Or, maybe, this time they won’t.
They’ve just taken down two Speakers and in the aftermath of the disastrous Benghazi debacle, Boehner created a new committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. The far right has the energy and people power the GOP needs to have any hope of winning the 2016 election, which will be the most important of our lifetime. Their demands — while abhorrent to the general voting population — are widely popular with primary voters. And if they don’t get their way, they seek revenge relentlessly.
“There’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has often said when warning against the kind of shutdown or debt limit showdowns of the sort that booted the GOP in its face back in 2013.
But in the Freedom Caucus’ narrative, McConnell is the mule and they’re sick of being kicked around. Whether it’s a default or by actually nominating Ted Cruz in 2016, the GOP base is aching for a lesson that can only be learned through multiple, ever harder, kicks of the mule.
Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr