How the debt ceiling became a political club

The Democrats’ last attempt to lure Republicans came on Monday, when the Senate passed a bill to continue funding the government – an absolute necessity by September 30 – with a temporary increase in the cap of debt, as well as disaster relief assistance and funding for refugee resettlement. But because it is conventional law, Republicans blocked it under threat of obstruction.

That leaves Democrats with few options other than using the budget reconciliation process to lift the cap, adding to the party’s long list of things to do in the coming days. It takes time, but in the absence of a colossal error on the part of Congressional leaders, it will happen, as Mr. McConnell promised.

If so, what is the problem? Republicans say they’ll use the vote to attack Democrats halfway through, but it’s hard to imagine holding it up, especially since voting is about paying off existing bonds, not creating new ones with it. more spending. There is a good chance that in a year no one will talk about it.

There are, however, two disturbing teachings of this semi-annual dance with flaw. The first is, of course, that this is no way to run a country. Some will defend the debt ceiling as a spending restraint, but while that was the original goal, it doesn’t work – otherwise we wouldn’t have to raise it every few years. And there are much better ways to control spending than intentionally heading for the edge of a cliff, only to brake at the last possible second.

But there is something else in the current struggle against the debt limit that bodes ill for the future. Much of the fear-mongering comments about the possibility of a default assume that it is the result of a miscalculation. But what if it was intentional? What if one side comes to believe that forcing a default would sink the other, politically, and decides to prioritize its short-term political fortunes over the long-term economic health of the country?

If that sounds crazy to you, think about how quickly we got used to Republicans shutting down the federal government for weeks on end for a fleeting political concession. The fact that the closures have caused significant damage to the country and to the public’s confidence in its leaders has not stopped elected officials from doing so again and again.

And in a world where significant parts of both parties believe that having the other in the majority amounts to a communist (or fascist) coup, it’s not hard to imagine one party deciding to sabotage the other by pushing the country into bankruptcy. After all, during the fight against the debt ceiling in 2013, several Republicans in Congress said that a default would not be so bad and that it would be worth stopping Mr. Obama’s legislative priorities. .


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