For all this self-pity about arming the opposition, it needs repeating that Republicans are chiefly responsible for having weaponized the debt ceiling.
Donald Trump’s deal with “Chuck and Nancy” has rained new angst on his party (the Republican Party). It extended the debt ceiling for three months and provided hurricane relief.
“Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!” Trump tweeted, the subject being the Affordable Care Act. To rub it in — or perhaps to get something done — he turned to Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for action on other issues.
Some on the left grumbled that cooperating with Trump carried risks for Democrats. They could be seen as normalizing a man whose character they abhor, whose toxic policies they plan to run against.
Let us now interrupt this debate over who won and who lost to discuss whether what happened is good for the country. It is good for the country — though not as any dawn of a new era of bipartisanship. The part that mattered was the plan to wrench the job of raising the debt ceiling from the hands of Congress.
What does raising the nation’s borrowing limit do? It affirms America’s promise to honor its debt obligations. That should be a lawmaker’s duty, not a concession. Letting the United States go into default for any reason would destabilize the global economy, with disastrous results for this country.
The right has made a specialty of threatening America’s commitment to make good on its bonds, notes and bills. Belief that the mighty United States stands behind its Treasury securities has made them among the safest investments in the world. And that has kept the interest we (the taxpayers) pay on them relatively low.
Democrats and Republicans used to routinely approve increases in the debt ceiling. Republicans made no trouble during the George W. Bush years when the national debt doubled.
Then Barack Obama became president, and Republicans decided to play games with America’s pledge to pay back what it owed. They withheld support for raising the debt ceiling to force through their tax and spending priorities.
In 2011, they drove the U.S. so close to default that the stock market plunged, consumer confidence collapsed and Standard & Poor’s lowered America’s credit rating. The stunt cost taxpayers billions.
To discourage another debt ceiling showdown three months hence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and budget director Mick Mulvaney refused Republican entreaties to commit in advance to spending cuts. (Trump’s respect for our debt obligations is a refreshing change from his campaign talk of repaying the debt for pennies on the dollar.)
Republicans booed Mnuchin and Mulvaney. Of course, nothing would stop them from attacking government spending the old-fashioned way, through budgeting. They have a majority in the Senate, a majority in the House and a Republican in the White House, after all. They might have to work with Democrats on some details, but life is so unfair.
Politico had one top Republican, unnamed, saying Trump had handed “a loaded gun” to Nancy and Chuck. Another Republican, also unnamed, told Axios that it was like giving “an entire stockpile of weapons” to Democrats.
For all this self-pity about arming the opposition, it needs repeating that Republicans are chiefly responsible for having weaponized the debt ceiling. Their chief complaint, really, is that by removing it from partisan play, they can no longer take “the full faith and credit of the United States” hostage.
Democrats can rest assured that any memories of Trump working with their leaders will soon be buried in a slag heap of new insults. To the extent that they’ve advanced the cause of protecting America’s reputation as a trustworthy borrower, they should pat themselves on the back.