The threat from the Republican House to blow up the global economy if they can’t destroy the social safety net has finally gotten the attention of the traditional media, which is fantastic. Now what we have to achieve is getting President Biden and Democratic leadership to absorb and comprehend the reality that Republicans are fully willing and able to do what they say they will: make the U.S. default on its debt and destroy the economy in order to start the process of killing Social Security and Medicare.
President Joe Biden spoke about that Friday morning, saying, “I will not yield” to Republicans in their demands. Great. But then, this:
Which is fundamentally wrong, and even more so in the face of Republican threats. Getting rid of the debt ceiling in the face of this very credible threat from Republicans is the furthest thing from “irresponsible” possible.
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The debt ceiling is just a historical artifact, first set up for accounting purposes in World War I. It is arguably unconstitutional anyway. The problem is, it exists whether or not it should. Thus, what is irresponsible is Republicans using the full faith and credit of the U.S. as a hostage.
The consequences could be severe. The last time there was just the real threat of it, when the House Tea Partiers threatened it in 2011, it led to the first-ever downgrading of the U.S. credit rating. That’s why last year, when Republicans were lightly flirting with going there again, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that is has become “increasingly damaging” to even set a debt ceiling.
“It’s led to a series of politically dangerous conflicts that have caused Americans and global markets to question whether or not America is serious about paying its bills,” she said, calling it “an impossible situation.”
Right now is a really bad time to do this, with inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the U.K. imploding—global markets are feeling just about as shaky as they possibly could.
There are Democrats who recognize this, and who are urging leadership to deal with it in the lame-duck session after the election, cutting Republicans off at the pass. Punchbowl News reports that a “group of prominent House Democrats led by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.)” is circulating a letter asking leadership to “to permanently undo the threat posed by the debt limit.”
“If the counterintuitive nature of the current debt ceiling process is not reason enough to drive change, then the prospect of Republicans sending our economy into default for political gain should be,” the lawmakers write. As a Friday morning, it had been signed by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), John Yarmuth (D-Y), and several others. Those members are leaders of key caucus and committee chairs, so indeed prominent.
“The only hope of avoiding these potential repercussions is for us to implement a solution more permanent and reliable than the current practice of hastily taking action each time we approach the dollar amount of the debt limit or the expiration of an enacted suspension,” the lawmakers continue. “As we have detailed in the past, there are several options to do this, including proposals to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to raise the debt limit unilaterally (e.g., H.R. 5415) and to permanently repeal the federal debt limit (e.g., H.R. 1041 or H.R. 3305), among others.”
It’s by no means irresponsible to consider any of these measures. There are plenty to choose from. There’s the option to mint the trillion-dollar platinum coin, an unlikely option, but there nonetheless. There’s the safe solution of putting it in the Treasury Secretary’s hands—it’s pretty unlikely that there’s ever going to be a nihilist in that position, not with the Wall Street ties the people who rise to that position always have. The debt limit could continue to exist, and just be set at a number that will never actually be reached, as Georgetown University law professor David Super has argued. It doesn’t even have to be set at a hard number—it could be indexed in some way to spending so that it will rise automatically at some specified percentage over spending.
This could definitely happen in the lame-duck, and might not even get Republican opposition. Remember back to last year, when the Republicans in the Senate blinked, twice. They allowed a temporary hike in October, then a long-term one in December. The ceiling set in that agreement is likely to be reached about this time next year—that’s what McCarthy and crew in the House are threatening.
Mitch McConnell and the two problem members of the Democratic conference—Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—agreed to a convoluted process in which they broke the filibuster without really breaking the filibuster to pass the increase. At the time, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pointed out: “Let’s be clear what this is: an exception to the filibuster. Today’s vote is proof that it’s possible to create exceptions to the filibuster and move forward when it’s important. We did it this time, let’s do it again.”
It’s time. Right now, however, it’s considered by Democrats insiders “unlikely” that they will act in the lame-duck. That’s foolish. As foolish as Biden saying that dealing once and for all with the issue by doing the perfectly constitutional thing of eliminating it is irresponsible.
Democrats need to do it if for nothing else than to end debt ceiling fights forevermore, while they can. Even Mitch McConnell—the person who invented taking the debt ceiling hostage in the first place—would possibly agree. He’s under no delusions about just what his fellow Republicans are capable of doing. McConnell never wanted to shoot the hostage (debt ceiling), he just wanted to use it.
The band of nihilists threatening to take the House would have no such qualms.
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GOP unveils plan to blow up the global economy, destroy Social Security. Traditional media ignores
Congress creates Rube Goldberg-like mechanism on debt ceiling, instead of ending the filibuster
Senate moves toward fracturing the filibuster to raise the debt ceiling, just this once
Mitch McConnell takes a permanent hostage: the debt ceiling