After a never-ending string of humiliating votes for speaker that have failed to yield anything other than severe embarrassment for Kevin McCarthy, it’s worth asking what would happen if House Republicans never manage to settle on a leader. My answer: It would be good for the country.
Right now, we don’t actually need a House of Representatives—at least, not one under Republican control. You’ll recall that just before Christmas, Congress passed its annual spending bill, which will keep the government funded all the way until Oct. 1. Far-right furor over GOP support for that package in the Senate is partly animating the rebellion against McCarthy, but its passage was good news for the rest of us, since it reflects mainstream American priorities and ensures the government won’t shut down for the better part of a year. In fact, as long as the bills are paid, there simply isn’t anything else Congress has to do.
Now, theoretically, the House and Senate must pass legislation to once again raise the so-called “debt ceiling,” the entirely artificial cap on how much debt the government can issue in order to meet its financial obligations. We’re scheduled to hit that ceiling some time this summer, and Republicans are once again eager to take the economy hostage and threaten to shoot its head off if Democrats don’t agree to massive spending cuts.
If there is no operational House to pass a debt ceiling increase, then in theory the government might default on its loan obligations for the first time in history. But I can guarantee that won’t happen. There are many ways that Joe Biden could avoid default without congressional action, most famously by minting a $1 trillion platinum coin. Barack Obama pointedly ruled out deploying any extraordary measures the last time Republicans tried to nuke the global economy back in 2010 (he later called the platinum coin idea “wacky”), but Biden would be able to say he simply had no choice, what with the House not even functional and all.
So that gets us back to Congress’ duty to keep the federal government’s lights on. Unlike with the debt ceiling, there’s no way around the fact that legislation authorizing new spending must originate on Capitol Hill. But if Republicans were to cause another shutdown because they still haven’t managed to pick a speaker by October, then Democrats would probably win 300 seats in the House come 2024.
All the while, with no House in operation, we’d be spared the sham investigations Republicans are frothing to weaponize against Democrats. Sure, nothing helpful would get passed if the House pulls a Rip Van Winkle number, but that would also be true if McCarthy or any other Republican were named speaker.
Alternately, of course, Democrats could propose to make McCarthy a pure figurehead, telling him that as long as he gives them the gavel and the majority on every committee, he can be “speaker.” Since he’s willing to give away absolutely everything to chase this dream—including what remains of his dignity—he might just say yes. But if he doesn’t, then let him twist. Like I say, we simply don’t need a Republican House, and we’d be better off without one.