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.

Fiscal Cliff v2.0

Just a quick post with my thoughts on Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s announcement today that by mid-October the U.S. will only be able to make payments with the cash it as each day. In other words, we’re hitting the debt ceiling a couple of months early. Kevin Drum posits that this means negotiations over the budget are going to be lumped in with the debt ceiling:

If mid-October really is the drop-dead date, it means that budget negotiations in late September and debt ceiling negotiations in early October pretty much run right into each other. It’s Fiscal Cliff v2.0.

I don’t quite know what this does to John Boehner’s fragile attempts to keep the lunatic wing of his party under control. Nothing good, probably. I’m also not sure what it does to President Obama’s promise not to negotiate over the debt ceiling. If all of this stuff get munged together, then everyone’s going to get mighty hazy mighty fast about what exactly is being negotiated.

The budget negotiations and debt ceiling running into each other will hurt President Obama and Democrats on both those issues. Raising the debt ceiling should be a technicality that no American would consider holding hostage. We know that House Republicans don’t believe that though. We also know that most Americans don’t follow politics closely and asking them to differentiate between Obama’s willingness to negotiate over the budget, but refusal to do so over the debt ceiling is difficult. Most aren’t going to understand the difference. and will expect Democrats and Republicans to compromise since there are two issues.

If the two were separate, Democrats could bargain with Republicans over the budget and come to a deal (or a continuing resolution). Then, a few months later, they could refuse to negotiate over the debt ceiling and explain to the public that this isn’t debatable. We don’t debate paying our bills. The two issues running into each other just muddies the water. That will allow Republicans to escape some blame on both topics and give the GOP more leverage in negotiations. It may even force the President to bargain over the debt ceiling (or do so subtly). Either way, Republican elites should be pleased with this outcome. It may make their party a bit harder to control during the process, as Drum points out, but the increased leverage they have over the President is a worthwhile tradeoff. As for Democrats, there’s nothing good about this at all. Get excited for Fiscal Cliff v2.0.