Here Comes That Promised, Dangerous Republican Hammer in the Name of MAGA
The announcement this week from the Treasury Department that the United States will start running out of money this week is bringing the showdown with House Republicans, over a debt ceiling, to a boil earlier than expected.
This unnecessary standoff has been predicted for weeks, along with all the dire consequences of not paying our national bills, but its early arrival is going to prove unpleasant for all of us – whether participants or the intended audience. If Washington is “broke,” as the Freedom Caucus insists, the fix apparently is stubborn insistence on self.
Can’t we agree that the time for friction is before spending is adopted and not afterwards? Is this the way you act after making any other purchase in your life?
Treasurer Janet Yellin said the government must start taking “extraordinary measures” starting Thursday to prevent the U.S. government from breaching the debt ceiling. — something that she said could cause “irreparable harm to the U.S. economy.”
We’re talking about national and international effects in prices, borrowing, money supply, major panic on Wall Street and millions of job losses. It’s not the stuff for politics.
These emergency tactics could buy time until the summer to adopt a law that would raise or suspend the country’s borrowing cap beyond its current level of $31.4 trillion
But basically, all that speechifying by the extreme right is about to hit the fan. One way or another, the group that forced concessions to allow Speaker Kevin McCarthy to take his job expect to use the same blackmailing techniques to force Joe Biden and Democrats to make devastating cuts to social service spending to avoid an international economic crisis.
Simply put, Biden is saying no cuts and no negotiations. He expects Congress – all of it – to stand by the country’s word to pay its bills, money already allotted for public spending.
So, the sides here are clear, and the gun is being raised to the side of the national financial head. The next steps are the game of financial chicken and all the political tricks at hand to evade disaster that will engulf us.
Worst of Government
In many ways, this sort of policy cliff-hanger is the worst that our form of government displays – as we just saw in the multi-day wrangling to name a Speaker who basically agreed in most things with those who held him up over power.
It is difficult to take these arranged dramas as seriously as the participants, because it is all posturing about power and future elections rather than problem-solving.
It’s a stupid argument that we would never use ourselves. If we bought something already, we know we must pay for it. If we lack money for future purchases, we need to consider that in making decisions ahead, not revisit those to which we already committed.
But this is the hard-core Republicans we are talking about here who see truth only in what they assert. Resisting the argument that failing to pay our debts will have international repercussions, they insist instead that we re-negotiated the deals that brought us to this point – even if those deals are about the nation’s health, housing, education, environmental safety, or other policy areas that they are attacking.
Now The Washington Post is telling us that these same House Republicans are preparing a plan to tell the Treasury Department to pay some of its bills and not most of them. According to the reporting, this previously unreported, tactic was part of the private deal reached this month to resolve the standoff between House conservatives and McCarthy to become Speaker, already making it a shaky proposition.
Whatever its fate, this plan represents exactly one of those political tricks meant to tell listeners that irresponsible extremists are doing the right thing.
We should reject it out of hand.
What Prioritizing Means
Here’s the idea, at least as shown in drafts and interviews shared by The Post: If the right-wingers have trouble getting the attention of the Biden administration and do not win spending-cut arguments, they want the Treasury only its most critical payments, including interest payments, and few other programs.
Apparently, conservatives would continue to make payments to continue Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits, as well as funding the military only.
Even if numbers showed that to be possible, this outlined plan would eliminate money for Medicare, food safety, air traffic control and border security, among other things. Forget about public health, consumer safety, parks, school lunch programs or school aid, and commitments to Ukraine.
Frankly, I did not understand that there are legal tools for Congress to turn on and off money for specific programs once they adopted.
The Post notes wryly that such a plan to continue payments for debtholders, including China, while denying government services to Americans “could turn into a major political liability for the GOP.”
Well, yes, though half the country apparently sees shutting down government as a positive goal without thinking through the consequences that will follow for years.
McCarthy and House conservatives intentionally left the details of the prioritization plan unsettled in their initial agreement, with the understanding that it could take weeks for Republicans to decide which federal spending programs must be protected, the two people familiar with the plan told The Post.
In 2011 and 2013, when similar debt ceiling crises loomed, Treasury said prioritizing payments was not technically possible. For the plan to be binding, it would have to pass not only the House but also the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Biden would have to sign it into law.
Even if it were enacted, a debt prioritization plan could still jeopardize the trustworthiness of the U.S. government. Business groups oppose the idea, believing that skipping payments for outstanding bills still calls into question the full faith and credit of the United States government.
Meanwhile, it turns out that with five Republicans in the House who choose to dissent, Democrats could call to the floor a clean vote on raising the debt ceiling. Sounds tricky, too. Or the government apparently has the power – but not the economic or political will – to mint a trillion-dollar coin without the permission of Congress.
Strap in, none of what is coming is pretty, and most of the sloganeering will be less than truthful and less than helpful.