Default Is Fine!
Here Are Three Debt-Ceiling Lies You’ll Hear From the GOP This Week
Michael Tomasky debunks the debt ceiling talking points in advance, from a not-so-bad default to Democrats who never compromise.
Attention will turn more sharply this week in the direction of the debt ceiling and the question of a possible default. We’re just 10 days away from D-Day, and since default is a much bigger deal than a shutdown, we’re going to have a week of cable debates about who’ll be to blame if the country defaults. It is with that in mind that offer you three arguments you’re sure to hear Republicans make. They’re all foolish or false or both, so clip this list and tape it to your refrigerator. The roof is finally starting to fall in on these serial liars, and I want you to be part of the growing army of Americans that knows a lie when it hears one.
1. A default wouldn’t really be that bad.
We haven’t heard this very much yet, but I expect it will start getting a stern workout this week. It was a heavy talking point back in 2011.
I remember reading, back in the summer, how Republicans had decided that they weren’t going to fight too much over a possible government shutdown, as they knew it would make them unpopular, and they were going to save their powder for a debt-limit battle. Of course, that was then. They obviously changed strategies and decided to fight on both, because when it comes to fighting with Obama they’re just lab monkeys with cocaine, and because Ted Cruz made them. But I remember thinking, How in God’s green acres did they settle on that strategy? I was aghast.
While a shutdown is terrible, it’s not in the same solar system of disaster as a default. But the substance meant nothing at all to them. What mattered was that a shutdown is comparatively easy for the public to grasp, while the debt-limit topic is confusing. So the idea that they might be jeopardizing the national and world economies didn’t mean a thing to them during their summer strategy sessions. The debt fight provided the better opportunity for them to confuse the public and disguise their game of Russian roulette over settled law (Obamacare), and it polled better.
The Republicans’ insouciant stance on the substance of the thing goes back to 2011. The journalist Robert Draper reported an amusing-horrifying episode in his book on the 2010 class, Do Not Ask What Good We Do. The party leadership brought in Republican economists to tell them how awful a default would be. The government would be able to pay only about half its bills, federal prisons would be shut down, interest rates would shoot through the roof. They were largely unmoved, Draper wrote.
The same thing is happening now. They just don’t believe the doomsayers. It’s liberal propaganda, just like all that “hooey” that gets talked about the polar ice cap melting. So you’re going to start hearing this idiocy again. Be forearmed.
2. Obama is a big hypocrite because he voted against a debt-limit increase while Bush was president.
Yes, he did cast such a vote, but no, he’s not a hypocrite, not even a small one. The reason is simple. Democrats made no threats when they cast their votes. They knew they were going to lose and had no real intention of winning.
It was March 16, 2006, when Obama cast the fateful vote. But the Democrats’ votes, Obama’s included, were purely symbolic. The Republicans controlled the Senate at the time, 55-45. The increase in the debt limit, the fourth in George W. Bush’s tenure, passed, 52-48, with three Republicans voting with all the Democrats.
But the Democrats knew they were going to lose. They were in the minority; duh. They did not choose to filibuster, which they could have done and which would have meant the Republicans needed 60 votes. If they’d done so, that would have been hardball, and in that case, Obama would have been a participant in a real threat against American creditworthiness. Even then it wouldn’t have been the same as what the GOP is doing now, unless those 45 Democrats had demanded, oh, that Bush rescind his tax cuts or his Medicare Part D bill or some other signal legislative achievement.
But the Democrats did no such thing. They cast symbolic votes to force Republicans to vote to increase the debt limit. So Obama’s 2006 vote means nothing and bears no resemblance to what’s going on today.
3. The Democrats won’t compromise, wah wah wah!
A huge lie. Here’s a fact I’d bet no more than 2 percent of the American public knows: that “clean” continuing resolution the Senate passed, with Democrats backing it and Republicans opposing it? That CR carried the levels of funding for government agencies demanded by Republicans, not Democrats.
That’s right. The Senate CR funds the government in the coming weeks at a level of $988 billion. The Democrats wanted $1.058 billion. But they passed a bill at Republican levels. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said late last week: “My caucus really didn’t like that. We took a real hit…So that’s one of the largest compromises since I’ve been in Congress.”
Now why did they pass a bill at the GOP’s preferred levels? Because, Reid said late last week, he had assurances from Boehner that the House speaker wouldn’t attach demands to the Senate CR if Reid brought it in at $988 billion. So this whole thing started with a significant Democratic compromise. But once the Republicans decided that they were going to use both the shutdown and the debt ceiling to try to defund and/or delay Obamacare, they couldn’t even vote for a bill that gave them a major fiscal victory. That’s how dug in and crazy they are.
So don’t be fooled. The GOP position is dishonest and destructive beyond words. I’d still bet that complete disaster will be averted, but with this bunch, you never quite know. People who’ve persuaded themselves that default won’t have serious ramifications are people capable of doing, and certainly of saying, anything.