Americans Still Don’t Understand the Debt Ceiling

I don’t mean understand it in terms of what it actually is (though I don’t think they understand that either). They don’t understand the consequences of it. Breaching the debt ceiling would be catastrophic, causing irreversible long-term effects on our debt and economy. That’s not hyperbole. The market doesn’t believe that we will breach the debt ceiling, because it would be too idiotic for John Boehner to allow that to happen. The current government shutdown is a drag on our economy and harms many different aspects of people’s daily lives. But a default is many orders of magnitude worse. Yet, a new Quinnipiac Poll today suggests that Americans are a bit confused about which is more dangerous: breaching the debt ceiling or a government shutdown.

Raising the debt ceiling is non-negotiable.
Raising the debt ceiling is non-negotiable.

The poll finds that by 72% to 22% margin, Americans do not want Congress to shut down the federal government over Obamacare. That’s good. However, a smaller margin (64% to 27%) do not want Congress to default over Obamacare. It’s good that in both cases Americans understand that it’s not acceptable to use a fiscal crisis as leverage to extort the opposite party. But these polls demonstrate that more Americans are OK with that extortion when the hostage is the debt ceiling than when it is government funding,

That’s backwards and needs to change. Part of the reason for this may be because this poll was conducted over the weekend, right before a government shutdown, while a possible default is still a few weeks away. Nevertheless, the media must do a better job explaining the consequences of a default to the American people. There should be no pretense that there will be negotiations over the debt ceiling. That’s not how this works. President Obama screwed up in 2011 by negotiating over it, but that was an outlier. It did not set a precedent.

Speaker Boehner will raise the debt ceiling, because if he doesn’t, it will go down as one of the single worst actions a legislator has done in the history of the United States. Once again, that’s not hyperbole. We need to stop treating this as a back-and-forth game, trying to guess what the speaker will do, and start calling it what it is: a foregone conclusion. Boehner will raise the debt ceiling, because it would be apocalyptic not to. The American people need to know that as well.

A Few Republicans Are Crazy But Consistent

When I read National Review reporter Jonathan Strong’s piece this morning that some House Republicans weren’t happy with their first offer to President Obama in return for raising the debt ceiling, I was shocked. The offer is basically everything House Republicans could ever want and they weren’t happy with it?! But as I’ve thought it over, it actually makes a bit of sense. From Strong’s article:

“It definitely has a lot of goodies in it – things that arguably would grow the economy and arguably would generate revenue. But still you have to address the spending problem,” said Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama.

“The reason that we have to raise the debt ceiling is because we have deficits. The reason that we have deficits is because we spend a whole lot more money than we bring in in revenue. And this debt-ceiling package does not fix the underlying cause of the problem, which are the deficits,” he added.

Other House Republicans expressed similar sentiments. This is actually consistent with what House Republicans have been screaming about for years: more spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. Now, our deficits are falling fast and the long-term debt has decreased significantly so it’s absurd to be cutting spending more. But this makes more logical sense then the christmas tree list of demands in the Republicans first offer.

The ironic thing is (and always has been) that by having the U.S. risk default, it actually drives up our borrowing cost and increases our debt. If we were to breach the debt ceiling, it would likely increase our long-term interest payments by nearly a trillion dollars. So it makes absolutely no sense to use the debt ceiling as leverage to extract spending cuts or anything else from the president. It’s a crazy, irresponsible tactic. The debt ceiling should be forever abolished.

But at least some House Republicans haven’t lost sight of the fact that their original reason for using the debt ceiling as an extortion device was because of the long-term debt. Business Insider’s Josh Barro wrote today that all of this shows that “the pretense that debt limit fights are about the public debt is over.” For most Republicans, that is certainly the case. But Strong’s article demonstrates that there are some who are still sticking to that principle. They are reckless, rash and stupid for holding the debt ceiling hostage, but unlike the rest of their colleagues, they are also consistent.