Holding the Debt Ceiling Hostage

John Boehner
Speaker Boehner plans to hold the ceiling hostage for something "really really big"

With the fight over a spending bill settled (for now), another fight is brewing in Washington over raising the debt ceiling. President Obama, who is advocating to raise the level at which the U.S. government is legally permitted to borrow, so as not to cause a default on payments, has said he wants to see a “clean” bill on the matter—one without attachments.

On Saturday night House Speaker John Boehner declared, “The president says, ‘I want you to send me a clean bill.’ Guess what, Mr. President. Not a chance you’re going to get a clean bill.”  Boehner argued that “there’s no plan to deal with the debt we’re facing,” and that Republicans would not vote to increase the limit unless Democrats conceded something “really, really big.”

What makes this so infuriating is the debt ceiling is not a partisan issue.  If the GOP had wrangled their $100 billion in spending cuts last week, or even if Paul Ryan’s budget had been put in place last year, we’d still be on a course to exceed the debt ceiling.  It’s not like the GOP had a plan to avoid it, but the Democrats forced us on a reckless course instead.

There is no remotely feasible “really really big” concession that would cause us to not hit the debt ceiling. None. Further, both sides agree that defaulting on our debt would have catastrophic long-term economic consequences.  There will likely be a non-trivial downside to even flirting with letting us crash into the ceiling.

That this is even an issue is wholly irresponsible.  That Boehner will use his “but I can’t control my crazy-ass Tea Party folks and they’re just nuts enough to pull the trigger” strategy on this to gain likely concessions on lowering regulations, restricting abortion, and lowering taxes is outright extortion.

On the one hand, it’s tempting to hope that this time the Democrats stand firm and call their bluff.  However, there’s a real danger they aren’t bluffing.  Something many voters should consider the next time they opt to send some whacko hack to Washington just to shake things up.   You may get more than you bargained for.


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