Mitch McConnell won another round in his quest for world domination when he blocked Democrats’ effort to act responsibly and step up to the thankless task of raising the debt limit. This went beyond his already irresponsible threat not to lift a finger to help Democrats lift it. Now he’s actively stopping them from doing the right thing on their own.
There are lots of things you can say about Cocaine Mitch, but you can’t say he broke his vow to make stopping Biden “100 percent of his focus.” His willingness to imperil the full faith and credit of the United States to do so is more proof than the country can stand.
This isn’t about future spending or Democrats’ plans; it’s about refusing to pay debts we’ve already incurred. In less than three weeks, the bill for the Trump-McConnell tax cut for the elites they both pretend to hate, along with everything else the country has spent money on in recent years, comes due. Pay it and the parties go on to fight another day. Don’t pay it, and all hell breaks loose.
McConnell says that Democrats can lift the debt ceiling without any Republican support, but—even setting aside that they’d be doing so to pay the tab Trump ran up—it’s not clear they can, given McConnell killing their effort on Tuesday and time running short.
Living up to the promise to pay what we owe isn’t an issue that registers in opinion polls; Democrats have failed miserably to label the bills at the center of this debate the Trump-McConnell debt or to describe just how ludicrous the GOP position is. Imagine telling your credit card company that you meant to pay your bill but your spouse wouldn’t raise your debt ceiling.
On behalf of America, that’s the grift McConnell is pulling. If successful, he’ll leave the country unable to pay its bills for the first time in 245 years. He will be cutting off America’s nose to spite liberals’ faces. It makes no sense.
We got an inkling of what could happen in 2011, when then-House Speaker John Boehner went to the absolute last minute before raising the ceiling as a way to torment Barack Obama. As it dragged on, Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s debt, meaning taxpayers had to pay $1.3 billion more to borrow money. Global markets trembled and there was a market sell-off here. Veterans and Social Security recipients feared their checks would stop arriving.
McConnell is threatening to take us to the edge again, or over it this time, in the hopes that he can convince the country that Democrats are not fit to govern. But there’s no excuse at all for refusing to pay back debts America has already incurred, and it’s been Republicans who’ve done the most to run up that tab. Of the 57-percentage-point increase in the debt to GDP ratio since 1960, 52 of them came when a Republican sat in the Oval Office.
Running last year, McConnell said “If I’m still the majority leader in the Senate, think of me as the Grim Reaper. None of that stuff is going to pass." Thanks in part to Trump’s seditious temper tantrum after his own loss, Democrats won both special elections in Georgia and with them control of the Senate but even as minority leader McConnell is doing his damnedest to kill Democrats’ dreams—even when their dream is to pay our bills and keep America’s economy and the foundation of the world economy intact.
Here’s how Obama’s speechwriter Jon Favreau described the stakes in 2011, before Boehner yielded at the 11th hour:
“With each passing day, making our debt payments to businesses and governments around the world would become more and more difficult. When the world stopped seeing the United States as a safe and reliable place to invest, the cost of borrowing money would skyrocket for every single American—whether it’s a home mortgage or a personal credit card. And those high borrowing costs, coupled with billions in delayed income for seniors, soldiers, small-business owners, and their employees, almost surely would send our economy, and the world’s, into a crisis even deeper and more dramatic than the Great Recession of 2009.”
This is the fire that McConnell is playing with now as he’s ceded control of the party to Trump, who couldn’t win himself but is now actively punishing Republicans willing to call out his craziness with primaries. Desperate to hang on the MAGA nuts he needs to show up at the polls to retake the senate,, McConnell looks the other way when Trump keeps raving about how the election was supposedly stolen from him.
And where Trump claims his victims by shouting, McConnell uses a soporific, unsmiling certainty that lulls people into a state of passivity that’s hard to crack. What the Turtle is doing with the debt limit could be every bit as destructive to the economy as the Donald’s Big Lie is to our democracy. When Chicken Little said the sky was falling, folks at least looked upward. Try explaining that the debt ceiling is for bills run up by those now refusing to own up to them and I can attest that everyone suddenly has to hang up and take another call.
We think we can get through any ordeal because we’ve gotten through so many. But it’s hard to think of a worse time to call into question the reliability of America. We have one of the worst death rates from the pandemic—twice as high as might have been seen under a stable president. Treaties were broken; Putin became a confidant, our allies the enemy. We sloughed off floods, fires, melting ice caps, and temperatures of 120 degrees as flukes man can’t control.
The country is recovering from the worst pandemic since 1917 but it’s new and fragile and subject to relapse. Who will look to America to lead if McConnell helps send not just our own economy, but those of our allies and enemies, into free fall?