Does the Republican caucus have the right to hold the world’s economy hostage?
On January 19 the U.S. Department of Treasury announced that the federal government had hit the debt limit and that “extraordinary measures” were necessary to prevent a default. Thankfully, we still have time. But even these measures only give Congress until early June to act.
Wait, you may say—didn’t we just have one of these crises? Good memory. Ever since Bill Clinton’s presidency they’ve been predictable each time we have a Democratic president, with the latest crisis happening in late 2021. As I said back then:
The most important thing to remember about the debt limit is that it, like all the worst parts of politics and finance, is imaginary.
The second most important thing to remember is that failing to increase the debt limit would be catastrophic.
The imaginary nature of the limit and the catastrophic implications of failing to raise it haven’t changed, but unfortunately the situation is even more dire now. We have a divided and confused Republican caucus in charge of the House, if the once-in-a-century race for speaker didn’t spell that out. The Republicans intend to use the debt limit as a way to attempt to get spending concessions, but whether there is actual agreement on what they want is entirely unclear.
Even using the debt limit to control spending is illegitimate. Congress ought to control spending directly, by passing a regular budget. That is their duty and right. The House GOP doesn’t need to risk default and the economic chaos that would result. They can just pass a budget that reflects what they want the government to spend.
But if they did that, they would need to defend their ideas and make a proactive case for the kind of government they want, rather than force damaging cuts with plausible deniability.
At this point, I’m reminded of George Santos. His story is truly incredible: After he was elected to the House of Representatives we promptly learned that almost everything about the man is a lie. While we still may learn that he has committed a crime, and will perhaps be expelled from Congress, I think he fits in the Republican caucus.
Representative Santos tells lies habitually, for money and power, but doesn’t seem to have any broader principles. He, a fundamentally unserious person, has joined a group of unserious people who also seem to lack principles and who are holding the world’s economy at ransom for an unclear price.
So perhaps the time has come for serious people, like our friends at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to do silly things to defuse the situation: even more extraordinary measures. Secretary Yellen has dismissed the trillion dollar coin idea as a gimmick (which it is), but there may be other means to get around a debt ceiling—by manipulating bond interest rates or doing something else entirely off the wall.
This situation isn’t sustainable. Our politicians have embraced this kind of brinkmanship, but it isn’t healthy. And it is a distraction from real crises rooted in the real world. Congress has work to do and House Republicans are getting in the way.
Greg Williams works in digital politics at Faith in Public Life (although opinions are his own). You can yell at him on Twitter @gwilliamsster but he’d prefer if you were kind.
Perhaps a main issue between the parties is that of destroying failing institutions or reforming them. Reform is much harder.