If Republicans take over the House of Representatives in 2023, they intend to force the Biden administration into making drastic cuts to domestic social programs in exchange for “agreeing” to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Goaded by Donald Trump, their plan is to hold the country hostage, threatening to push all of us over the brink into an unprecedented fiscal calamity if their demands are not met. As explained by Mike DeBonis, writing for The Washington Post, intensive planning for this tactic is already well underway by a Republican caucus eagerly anticipating the return of one or both houses of Congress to their control, and is almost certain to “become the dominant domestic political clash ahead of the 2024 presidential election.”
That is, unless Democrats take one simple, necessary step—right now—to stop them dead in their tracks.
As the Post’s Paul Waldman reminds us, the nihilistic, willfully ignorant breed of know-nothings that currently predominate among congressional Republicans will have no qualms whatsoever about wrecking the entire country in order to get what they want. A party that willingly ratified the use of violence and endorsed a seditious mob of thugs trying to overthrow an election result that was not to its liking certainly won’t hesitate to inflict an unnecessary economic disaster on the American population, as long as a Democrat can be blamed for that disaster:
You can call it extortion, but hostage-taking may be a more accurate way to think about it, and the U.S. economy is the hostage. Just as a hostage negotiation depends on the mutual understanding that the hostage-taker is willing to kill the hostage but the other negotiator wants to save them, this strategy depends on the understanding that Republicans are willing to destroy the U.S. economy.
As Waldman points out, just 10 years ago a less virulent (if equally destructive) strain of Republican legislators provided the necessary template for such an action when they extorted similar concessions from former President Barack Obama in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Obama, who in 2011 felt obliged not to plunge the country back into a fiscal abyss, was forced to slash domestic programs, but not before the crisis the GOP had concocted resulted in the country’s credit rating being downgraded. If the nation’s recovery from what was then known as “the Great Recession” was reduced afterward to proceeding in fits and starts from that point forward, the GOP was entirely to blame for it.
But they didn’t care then, and they certainly won’t care now. Because now there’s something new in the mix: Donald Trump.
For all his bloviating and threats, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell folded like a wet suit earlier this month, backing off from his prior ultimatums and permitting the debt ceiling to be raised after his corporate donor base essentially read him the riot act, pointing out the dire consequences for their profits resulting from continued intransigence on the debt ceiling. As patiently explained by many, including Hans Isakson for the Des Moines Register, the failure of this country to meet its already incurred fiscal obligations—which is all that raising the debt ceiling actually does—would be nothing short of catastrophic:
If the federal government defaults on paying its bills, especially its interest payments, the result on the U.S. economy would be catastrophic. According to Moody’s Analytics, default on the federal debt would wipe out some 6 million American jobs, cut stock prices by a third, and reduce household wealth by $15 trillion. That is what a catastrophe looks like.
Displeasing his donors could have real repercussions for McConnell. But a Republican House controlled by the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert will have no similar compunctions. They are controlled by one imperative only: to do the bidding of Donald Trump, because that ensures their own political survival. These people—and most of their compatriots who compose the Republican House caucus—are wedded to politics of nihilism that show no signs of abating. And they know that Trump is counting on them do whatever is necessary to destroy the political future of President Joe Biden well in advance of November 2024. Sending the country careening over a fiscal cliff in 2023 is not simply an aspirational goal for Trump, it’s a practical necessity to smooth the way for his own reelection. The consequences to ordinary Americans of such financial insanity is the very last, last thing on his mind.
As Waldman explains, all we have to do is imagine a little bit into the future to see how this all plays out, with Trump back in the picture in 2023 and House Republicans jumping in line to cater to his every whim:
What will those wishes be? Chaos. Crisis. If necessary, even the collapse of the federal government, which will allow him to say that everything has gone to hell and only his return can restore order.
So Republicans will demand far more than the usual drastic cuts to Medicare and Social Security when they take the debt ceiling hostage in 2023. Every social program in the Build Back Better infrastructure bill (which, assuming it is passed, may be President Biden’s most significant legislative achievement), will be held hostage. Because that’s what their fealty to Trump will demand.
There is, however, a way to thwart this planned sabotage. Waldman warns us that Democrats had better take it while they can.
All that’s necessary is to include a provision in that bill raising the debt ceiling by enough to get past the next few years. They should make clear that Republicans have left them with no choice. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists, and we should not allow Republicans to take the economy hostage, now or a year from now.
Waldman notes it would also be possible to insert such a provision in next year’s Reconciliation Budget Bill. But that assumes control of the Senate remains in Democratic hands for another year, a very dangerous assumption given the fact that the Democrats’ 50-50 “majority” status through 2022 is—to use as polite language as is possible—tenuous at best. We can only hope that the Biden administration—and every single Democratic U.S. senator—understands exactly what’s looming on the horizon, and particularly just how far the Republican Party is now willing to go to ingratiate itself to Donald Trump.
As Waldman puts it, “If someone tells you that a year from now they’re going to kidnap your family and hold them for ransom, you’d take action right now to stop them.” Republicans have already made it crystal clear what they intend to do. Simply waiting for them to do it is not an option. The insurrection of Jan. 6 showed Democrats how low these Republicans in thrall to Donald Trump are prepared to go. While Democrats can hope for the best, Republicans have amply shown us that whenever they are put in charge, the “best” course is always to prepare for the worst.