The current fight to raise the debt limit is proving to be another lesson in American political turmoil.
sign / m> Get up on politics in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.
Over the weekend, Germany held a difficult and close election peacefully, effortlessly and not a flashpoint about voter fraud or fake news – a sharp contrast, Many the observers Noticed, for the mess that is contemporary American electoral politics. And now we are learning another lesson in American political dysfunction: the fight over how and when to raise the debt limit.
Coming amid the maneuvering around President Biden’s infrastructure bill, his $3.5 trillion reconciliation package and an impending deadline to fund the government, the debate is absurd in its worst theater. The debt limit is a century-old, artificial limit placed on how much the United States can borrow to meet its current obligations, a limit that Congress can overcome, but remains in place. Because it is always caught up in short-term political calculations.
Increasing the limit a. used to be bipartisan non-event. But, like everything in Washington over the past 15 years, it has been sucked into a whirlwind of no-holds-barred politics. In 2006, Democrats, including then-Senator Joe Biden, refused to support debt-limit increases by the George W. Bush administration and the Republican majority in Congress in protest of the Iraq War and tax cuts. In 2011 and again two years later, Republicans tried to use their potential support as a bargaining chip to force Democrats and Barack Obama to accept spending cuts.
Each time, columnists and Treasury officials warned of the consequences of the lapse, should the limit not be raised. And each time, in the end, Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement, and the crisis was averted.
Things are a little different this time, though – not because we’re at any greater risk of default, but because the details of the fight speak volumes about the threat of government dysfunction.
As noted by my colleague Jim Tankersley, this time there is no demand from Republicans, no attempts to win concessions from Democrats. They simply refuse to engage with the issue. And Democrats, who see rising debt at least partly as a result of Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, but who may also act unilaterally to raise the limit, have Republicans to vote for debt increases. Hoping to force out. So own a piece of it.
The whole situation has a dark comical, Strangeloveian aura about it, if “Dr. Strangelove” were about fiscal policy rather than nuclear Armageddon. Consider a comment by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at a news conference last week.
“America should never default – we never have, and we never will,” he said. “The loan limit will be increased, as it should always be. But it will be taken up by the Democrats.”
In other words, Republicans are openly abdicating their responsibility to govern in order to score political points. (recently Morning Consult / Politico Poll found that in the case of a default, 33 percent of voters would blame the Democrats, 42 percent would blame both parties and only 16 percent would blame the Republicans.) Unlike in the past, there is no real theory involved, regarding the fight. Not even a fig leaf. Large-scale spending reduction or stretching. This is purely politics, with both parties eyeing the mid-term and trying to maneuver the other side to take a hit.
Democrats’ latest attempt to attract Republicans came on Monday, when the Senate took a bill to continue funding the government — an absolute necessity until September 30 — with a temporary increase in debt limits, disaster-relief aid and refugee resettlement. money for. But since it’s a traditional piece of legislation, Republicans blocked it with the threat of a filibuster.
That leaves Democrats few options but to use the budget reconciliation process to lift the ceiling, adding to the party’s long to-do list in the coming days. It is time-consuming, but in the absence of a major mistake by Congress leaders, it will happen, as Mr. McConnell promised.
If so, what’s the big deal in this? Republicans say they will use the vote to attack Democrats over the midterm, but it’s hard to imagine it sticking, especially since the vote is about paying current obligations, not overspending. To make new ones together. There’s a good chance that a year from now, no one will be talking about it.
However, by default there are two troublesome paths out of this semiannual dance. First, obviously, this is no way to run the country. Some would defend the debt limit as a spending moratorium, but while that was the original goal, it doesn’t work – otherwise, we wouldn’t have to increase it every few years. And there are far better ways to check expense than deliberately careering toward the edge of a cliff, only to brake at the last possible second.
But there is something else about the current debt-limit battle that is detrimental to the future. A lot of the horror-quote comment about the possibility of a default assumes that it will result in a wrong guess. But what if it is intentional? What if one party becomes convinced that forcing a default will overwhelm the other politically, and decides to prioritize its short-term political fortunes over the country’s long-term economic health?
If this sounds crazy, think about how quickly we shut down the federal government for Republicans to win some fleeting political concession. The fact that the shutdown caused significant damage to the country and public confidence in its leaders did not stop elected officials from doing the same again and again.
And in a world where significant portions of both parties believe that having a majority in the other is tantamount to a communist (or fascist) coup, it is not hard to imagine that one party is trying to sabotage the other by pushing the country into default. decides. After all, many congressional Republicans said during the debt-limit battle in 2013 that a default really wouldn’t be that bad, and it would be worth it to stifle Obama’s legislative priorities.
Then again, maybe this is all just another unlikely nightmare scenario. But after having a lot of nightmares over the years came to life, who would say?
New York Times Events
As world leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow for the resultant climate change talks, Climate Hub will bring together citizens, scientists, inventors, academics, representatives and journalists to uncover answers to one of the most pressing questions of our time. Bringing Together: How Do We Adapt and Thrive on a Changing Planet?
The Times event, both in person and online, will take place in Glasgow from 3 November to 11 November. get tickets nytclimatehub.com.
Also available as a newsletter on politics. sign / m> to be delivered to your inbox.
Is there anything you think we are missing? Anything else you’d like to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. email us [email protected].