Part of the problem is that McCarthy is weak; he’s just not up to standing against the dangerous extremists in the GOP caucus. The other problem is that he’s pretty damned dim. It is entirely possible that McCarthy has absolutely no grasp of how things like global financial systems work, and what happens when the biggest player steps out and refuses to pay its debts. Maybe he thinks the catastrophic outcomes have been overstated.
Maybe he thinks it’s just Democratic propaganda, even when it’s explained in very simple, short words. Here’s Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spelling it out when Republicans were making threats in November 2021:
“In a matter of days, millions of Americans could be strapped for cash. We could see indefinite delays in critical payments. Nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security checks for a time. Troops could go unpaid. Millions of families who rely on the monthly child tax credit could see delays. America, in short, would default on its obligations.”
As of now, the next time we bump up against that ceiling looks to be about a year from now, in the fall of 2023. The man who decided back in 2011 that taking the debt ceiling hostage was a good idea is playing coy now, having unleashed that monster on the world. Asked about it by Axios, whether it “will indeed be among the first orders of business he’d raise with a Speaker McCarthy, McConnell smirked.”
The thing about McConnell, though, even then, was that it’s a hostage you can take, one “that’s worth ransoming,” but not one to actually shoot. That’s a distinction that the new order of Republicans, in the thrall of Trump, won’t necessarily make. Or understand. Or care about. But McConnell unleashed this on the nation, and here we are. Even though team McConnell is frantically trying to revise the history.
Rohit Kumar, McConnell’s former deputy chief of staff during the 2011 debt limit fight and now PwC’s national tax services co-leader, countered: “Thinking that you can credibly threaten the full faith and credit of the federal government in exchange for some collateral demand is just wish casting.”
Collateral damage was precisely what McConnell was going for, up to a point. Now that he’s unleashed this thing, he doesn’t have the power to rein it back in. He can talk to McCarthy all he wants about not actually shooting the hostage, but that doesn’t mean it’ll take. Particularly when McConnell’s on the losing side of the GOP civil war, with you-know-who poised to be running for the White House again and agitating against him.
All of which means Democrats have to hold the House. For all sorts of very good reasons, Democrats need to keep the House and Senate both.
It sucks that we have to be the ones to save Kevin McCarthy and the world from Kevin McCarthy, but that’s the way it is.
We have an even shot at keeping our House majority, but only if enough Democrats turn out to vote. Click to start writing Postcards to Democratic-leaning voters in targeted House districts today.
This week on The Downballot
we check in on Pennsylvania, where Republican Doug Mastriano has called for "40 days of fasting and prayer" to save his ailing campaign for governor; dig into ad spending numbers that show Democrats airing far more spots because they aren't relying on super PACs; and recap the dispiriting results of Italy's general election, which saw the far-right win for the first time since Mussolini.
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