Wall Street Isn’t Falling For The GOP’s False Debt Ceiling Premise

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has a great post today on the inherent contradiction of the Republican Party’s debt ceiling position. On the one hand, Republican leadership has said that the debt ceiling must be raised. The U.S. cannot default. On the other hand, they are demanding concessions from the president for doing something they know they have to do. As Sargent said on Twitter, “if Rs concede debt limit MUST go up to avert econ disaster for all, why are they entitled to something in return for it?” The answer is that they aren’t entitled to something in return. Here’s Sargent:

The second argument made by Republican sympathizers is that, okay, Republicans will raise the debt limit in the end, but they don’t want to, so it’s still a concession on their part. But why don’t they want to raise it, if they know it must happen to avert economic disaster? The only conceivable answer is that staking out a posture of reluctance to raise it gives them leverage to extract concessions.

This gets to the core truth about this debate: As long as it’s an open question whether Republicans are prepared to allow default, the claim that Republicans are threatening to do extensive harm to the country in order to extort concessions from Dems that a radical faction of their party is demanding is 100 percent right.

On the other hand, if it is not an open question that Republicans are prepared to allow default — that in the end, John Boehner will definitely raise the debt limit with support from Democrats when it comes down to it, because he knows it must happen — then why are we even having this discussion at all?

These are very important points. The media is fueling Boehner’s negotiating strategy by buying into the premise that Republicans are actually willing to breach the debt ceiling. It’s unclear how many House Republicans fall into that camp, but we know that Boehner isn’t one of them. As the speaker of the House, he can bring a bill to the floor that will raise the debt ceiling and it will pass with plenty of Democratic support. If Boehner holds true to what he said, there is no story here. The House will raise the debt ceiling. Period. Any talk about concessions or negotiations supports the House Republican’s false premise that we could actually breach the debt ceiling.

While the media may be falling for Boehner’s trick here, Wall Street isn’t. There’s been a lot of reporting on the fact that the bond markets are calm and investors don’t seem particularly worried about a default. That’s because they understand that Boehner will raise the debt ceiling. They read the coverage of the debt ceiling. They see Ezra Klein write that he’s “scared of the debt ceiling” and Jonathan Chait say that the “debt-ceiling showdown is the fight of Obama’s life.” They see congressmen worry that they don’t know how this will end. They see and read all of this.

And they don’t care.

They know there won’t be any negotiations and that Boehner will raise the debt ceiling eventually. There isn’t a freak out in the markets, because there is nothing to freak out about. Unlike the media, the market isn’t buying into this false Republican premise.

Rand Paul is Willing To Breach the Debt Ceiling

Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has been a rising star in the GOP the past couple of months, particularly after his drone filibuster. He’s been the leading libertarian voice, following in his father’s footsteps, but with a more populist tone that could give him a legitimate shot at the Republican nomination in 2016. However, he is very, very confused about how harmful breaching the debt ceiling would be. Here’s what Paul said on Glenn Beck’s radio show this afternoon:

With the debt ceiling, I’ve always been willing to go through the deadline. I’m willing to go a month, two months, three months, as long as it takes. And I think we could use that leverage to bring the Democrats to the negotiating table.

AHHHHHHH. I honestly don’t understand how Paul can think this. By all accounts, he’s a smart, hard-working guy who believes in what he says. But he can’t possibly think that breaching the debt ceiling for three months would be acceptable? That would be a disaster of unheard of proportions. Our interest rates would rise significantly, increasing the cost of our debt by trillions of dollars in the long-term. Vital government services that keep the country going would stop. Three months of that could lead to anarchy.

And this was all after Paul said that he doesn’t want a government shutdown, because it would be bad for the Republican Party. Undoubtedly, Paul understands that a government shutdown would be bad for the country as well. But does he really think that breaching the debt ceiling for 90 days is more acceptable than a government shutdown?

Maybe Paul is bluffing here so that Republicans will be in a better position to extort the President.  Maybe he is trying to shore up support from the base. I don’t know. But the casualness with which Paul speaks about breaching the debt ceiling and causing an international financial crisis is alarming. I truly hope he doesn’t believe what he’s saying.

Why I’m Skeptical About #MintTheCoin

The big conversation topic over the past week has been about whether or not President Obama should instruct the Treasury to mint a trillion dollar platinum coin, deposit it in the Treasury’s bank account at the Fed and thus avoid a nasty debt ceiling fight with Republicans. Steve Randy Waldman has more technical details on it. It’s an incredibly interesting idea and at first, I was on board, but over the past few days, my mind has changed.

I still believe its legal and would not have any economic impact outside of avoiding a default. It wouldn’t cause massive inflation. And of course the coin doesn’t need to be actually made out of a trillion dollars worth of platinum.

But, I’m skeptical about it for two reasons:

1. Right now, we have two parties in this country: one crazy (Republicans) and one sane (Democrats). Think about what would happen if we actually minted the coin:

Republicans would probably file a lawsuit against the President, claiming its illegal. And then they would spend the next four years making the President’s life as hard as possible. Forget about new gun regulation. Forget about immigration reform. Congress is inept right now, but it can get a lot worse. Mitch McConnell can bring the Senate to a stop. John Boehner can spend the next two years only passing bills to repeal Obamacare. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if House Republicans tried to impeach the President for such a move. The government would grind to a halt. And, we also need to pass a new Continuing Resolution for the federal budget in March so that our government is actually funded. How do you think that would go if Obama mints the coin?

2. It also sends out an image to the rest of the world that America’s government is fundamentally broken. I know – our image is already in the garbage since we’re debating whether we should pay our own debts. Bear with me for a second.

Congress may be incompetent, but the President actually did accomplish a lot in his first term: the ACA, Dodd-Frank Act, ending the war in Iraq, etc. House Republicans can spend all the time they want opposing everything Obama proposes but it doesn’t mean nothing happens. Bills still do pass (even if it’s at the slowest rate ever) and laws are signed. Believe it or not, Congress can actually do a lot less. Other countries, international companies and foreign investors know this. They may also hit the panic button if we mint the coin. Who wants to invest in a country where they need to mint a trillion dollar coin to not default? Who would have any faith that that country could accomplish anything? I’m not sure if the international world would finally lose faith in America, but it’s a risk that I’m unwilling to take.

However, there is a big caveat here. If the option is between going over the debt ceiling and defaulting or minting the coin, I’m on #MintTheCoin’s side. Defaulting is still worse than McConnell and Boehner shutting Congress down. It’s still worse than the international world losing all faith in America’s political institutions.

But right now, there’s a third option: negotiations.

I know the President has said he won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling, but he doesn’t have a choice here. The negotiations aren’t going to be fun. Republicans have the leverage and are going to use it. Some are crazy enough that they actually want us to default. However, Republican leadership understands how horrible that would be. They know they can’t let it happen. They also know that their image is a disaster and the public will largely blame them if we default. They have a number of incentives to negotiate and work towards a deal.

It’s a terrible, horrible standard to set, but we don’t have a choice. Get ready for an ugly couple of months.