It’s possible that the current fiasco over the debt ceiling is all an elaborate dance. It’s possible that President Joe Biden recognizes that the Republican party is now inhabited by such virulent extremists that the end game is unavoidable, and all that is left to be done is convince the public that he made an honest effort with them. Because as close as he and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy may have grown in their long chats with each other, in the final analysis (which is the one that matters), McCarthy is nothing but a useless vessel with no real power over his caucus. That was made perfectly clear in the embarrassing circus that surrounded his ascension to the speakership in the first place.
The real Republican party is best exemplified in the persona of the noxious Marjorie Taylor Greene whose entire shtick consists of escalating her performative outrageousness and white supremacy cheerleading to fundraise as much as she possibly can. And the fact that the Republican caucus is now routinely characterized in terms of disparate mob groups (the so-called “five families”), each with its own pet formula to attract the attention of the tiny coterie of billionaires and fossil fuel magnates who actually run the party, is actually quite instructive in this regard.
The unfortunate reality that House Republicans are nothing but an unruly mob of truly ignorant, hateful, and un-American grifters has been plain to see for years, but most visibly since the disgraceful events of Jan. 6 when more than half of the same caucus now holding the country’s Full Faith and Credit hostage to their demands voted to deny President Biden the presidency in the first place. Since that day, the adage that “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time” has never been more apt: the Republicans have proved themselves over and over as a group of fascist-wannabees with no interest in actually governing and even less interest in the people they claim to serve. Yet President Biden, by all public appearances at least, seems to be suffering under the tragic impression that they can actually be reasoned with.
Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times, has seen enough, apparently. His verdict on President Biden’s ostensible efforts to negotiate with these terrorists, mordantly titled “How Biden Blew it on the Debt Ceiling,” is frank and unsparing.
RELATED STORY: Biden to host debt ceiling talks as McCarthy draws a 'red line'
As Krugman writes:
As soon as Republicans took control of the House last November, it was obvious that they would try to take the economy hostage by refusing to raise the federal debt limit. After all, that’s what they did in 2011 — and hard as it may be to believe, the Tea Party Republicans were sober and sane compared to the MAGA crew. So it was also obvious that the Biden administration needed a strategy to head off the looming crisis.
But thus far, as Krugman observes, there appears to have been no coherent strategy to deal with the truly cancerous mutation that the Republican party has metastasized into since the advent of Donald Trump. The administration, he believes—possibly with the complicity of an uninterested Democratic Senate majority during the prior lame duck session—has simply sleepwalked itself into a potential crisis that anyone could have seen coming months ago. Perhaps they didn’t have the votes at that time for a lasting solution. But as Krugman cogently points out, they didn’t even try. As a result, the American public remains largely ignorant of the potential consequences that could befall them in a matter of weeks.
Krugman is disconcerted by the signals he sees as being telegraphed by the administration:
But all we’ve seen from Biden officials since the House changed hands has been a combination of assertions that a U.S. default would be catastrophic — which may well be true — and denigration of any and all possible end runs around the debt ceiling. My heart sank, for example, when Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, repeatedly rejected the idea of minting a platinum coin — one of several possible ways to bypass the debt limit — as a “gimmick.” Yes, it would be a gimmick, but it would also be harmless. As I explained the other day, it would not mean printing money to cover the deficit; in practice, it would amount to carrying out normal borrowing through a back door.
As Krugman argues, any solution to this crisis must be unconventional by definition. Because the Republican party in its modern form is not normal; It does not respond to reason, logic, or even self-interest. It is a party of Mad Hatters each living in his own insular social media and Fox News-fueled bubble, a strange and unreachable netherworld that doesn’t acknowledge reality or even cause and effect.
The idea that an antiquated vestige from the 1930s such as the debt ceiling could conceivably be used as a tool of outright extortion, however, was not new. Biden had a front row seat to this tactic during the Obama administration, albeit with a less toxic and nihilistic group of House Republicans. The idea that such a group would ever exhibit anything close to “good faith” should have been recognized as preposterous from the get-go.
The very last thing that you want to do with such people is give them a reason to double down. But that, Krugman believes, is exactly what President Biden has done:
Many people have pointed out that this sets a terrible precedent, that having seen that extortion works, Republicans will engage in it again and again. Even these concerns, however, seem to me to be taking too long a view. Now that Republicans see what seems to be an administration on the run, there’s every reason to expect them to keep escalating their immediate demands — quite possibly to the point where no deal is possible.
The salient characteristic of all right-wing fanatics is that they are never going to be satisfied. Neither moderation nor forbearance are words appearing in their playbook. In the case of the debt ceiling, many of them have already convinced themselves that default would be a good thing: that they could blame all of the catastrophic economic fallout that follows on Biden, thus securing a path for their Fuhrer, Donald Trump, whose shadow looms darkly behind all of the party’s machinations.
Krugman allows that Republican intransigence may force President Biden’s hand, effectively giving him no option but to “adopt unconventional methods” to resolve the crisis. But thus far he is singularly unimpressed by the administration’s tactics:
I don’t see any way to regard this whole episode as anything but a disastrous failure to face up to the reality of an opposition party controlled by extremists.
Perhaps President Biden is playing his cards so close to the vest that even Krugman can’t discern them. We all better hope that’s the case.
Debt ceiling hostage has days, not weeks left
Is Biden signaling surrender to debt ceiling hostage takers?