This week, House Speaker John Boehner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan made two important if largely overlooked admissions regarding the U.S. national debt. While Boehner told ABC News that "we have no immediate debt crisis," Ryan similarly acknowledged to CBS News, "We do not have a debt crisis right now." That is indisputably true. After all, the annual budget deficit has been almost halved since Barack Obama first took the oath of office and has fallen at the fastest rate since World War II. And over just the past two years, Washington has already reduced the forecasted national debt over the next decade by $3.9 trillion.
Despite the improving debt situation, Speaker Boehner announced Thursday that Republicans will once again hold the debt ceiling hostage unless the GOP's latest demands for draconian cuts in the size of the federal government are met.
In August 2011, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell described the GOP's debt-limit extortion as "a hostage that's worth ransoming." Now, Politico reports, House Republicans are once again threatening to kill the U.S. economy if the social safety net isn't gutted:
First, House Republicans are considering passing a bill in April to prioritize government payments if the nation defaults on its debt. The idea, which was discussed recently at a private meeting of top elected Republican lawmakers, would allow the GOP to say it is preparing options if Washington cannot come to a debt ceiling agreement. It's also meant to disarm Obama of the ability to say which government services he will provide in case of default...As we'll see below, these proposals represent the next step in the Republicans' unprecedented brinksmanship over the debt and dismantling government.
House GOP leadership is also eyeing several bills to hike the debt cap with different budgetary reforms -- those bills might hit the floor as soon as May. One option under discussion includes trying to tie tax reform to the debt ceiling. Republicans are also mulling another path, which would tether entitlement reforms Obama has previously supported to the debt ceiling. Those reforms include increasing the Medicare eligibility age, means testing Medicare and changing the formula for calculating government benefits.
Another scenario -- described by some GOP insiders as ideal -- would have Congress agree to $2 trillion in savings, which would get as much as a two-year extension of the debt ceiling.
After all, since 1980 the debt limit has been raised 40 times. (Boehner, Ryan, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell were among the Republicans who voted for seven increases while President Bush nearly doubled the national debt.) But never before has one party had both the intent and the votes to trigger a default by the United States. And the kinds of conditions the GOP now seeks to attach are a new blackmail that could put the entire America economy at risk.
We know this not just from the warnings of the Obama administration but from because John Boehner and Paul Ryan told us so. After all, during the last game of debt ceiling chicken in 2011, Ryan admitted, "You can't not raise the debt ceiling." And as the newly minted Speaker Boehner warned:
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said, 'we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs.' And you can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."Or, it turned out, even threaten to default, as plummeting consumer confidence and battered job creation in the summer of 2011 showed.
Yet, House Republicans are preparing to do it all again. Even though, they tell us, there's no debt crisis now.