Debt Ceiling Still Major Threat

Greg SargentI have a bone to pick with Greg Sargent. I appreciate his effort, but how long can the man go on spouting happy horseshit without realizing that it has become discouraging. At least a few times per week, he writes something along the lines of, “Boehner has already admitted Republicans won’t allow default.” In this he is talking about how the Republicans have signaled (and in some cases came right out and said) that they will not allow the federal government to default because of a refusal to raise the Debt Ceiling. Oh, though it were so!

It is true that Boehner said, “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.” But one can only read so much into that. To begin with, Boehner is talking about himself, not the party. But far more important, the statement sounds like a hope more than a commitment. If he is signaling, it is to his caucus, not to the rest of the nation. It’s more like, “Please guys, don’t do this!” And since saying it, he’s been pretty quiet.

My take on the situation is far less sanguine. Even when Boehner was doing his reasonableness tour, much of the Republican Party was enamored with the idea of crashing the economy. I know how revolutionaries feel about this kind of stuff. It is an exciting prospect to remake the society without all those compromises that we’ve allowed over the last 225 years. Just like young science fiction fans, they see only the good in a post-apocalyptic world.

Even worse, many conservatives seem to have been emboldened by the Sequester. When it went into effect without a global meltdown, they took it as more evidence that fears of any policy are overblown. (Of course, no one said the Sequester would cause a global meltdown—only that it would harm people and the economic recovery.) I think there are easily 100 Republicans in the House who are chomping at the bit to crash the economy. The fact that John Boehner indicates that he doesn’t want to do that doesn’t mean all that much.

The real question is whether the GOP establishment can figure out a way to raise the Debt Ceiling without it looking like a political defeat. That’s going to be important not just for the more radical members of the party. We all know that most Republicans worry primarily about being challenged from the right in a primary. In general, I think such concerns are overblown. Last year, for example, there was great concern that Orrin Hatch would lose his primary. So Hatch moved even further to the right. But in the end, he got more than twice as many votes as his challenger Dan Liljenquist. Just like Democrats pandering to the middle, Republican concerns about right flank attacks are mostly mythical. But they believe them and that could cause them to allow a default, even when they know it is a bad thing.

Hopefully, they will realize crashing the economy will not just be bad for the country; it will be bad for them. Most of these Republicans would suddenly find they have much more to worry about in the general election. With half the country out of a job, they would have nothing better to do than show up at the polls.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of politicians doing things they knew would hurt them. That’s certainly what the leaders of the South did. They went for it all and lost it all. That’s all good. But it also cost the lives of over 600,000 people. But that’s always the case: powerful men thrive despite their mistakes and weak men (by the millions) suffer. Jefferson Davis not only lived 24 years past the end of the Civil War, but he remained rich and respected. Regardless what happens, Ted Cruz’s good life is assured.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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