In a frustrating display, NBC News host Chuck Todd came so close to giving an accurate presentation on the facts of the debt ceiling debate in Congress — in which Republicans are obstructing a necessary measure to avoid the U.S. government defaulting on its debts and plunging the economy into a catastrophic meltdown.
But at the end, he reverted back to a both-sides framing that had no basis in reality.
“As we expected last night, we got another clear example of just how dysfunctional Congress is right now,” Todd said on Tuesday’s edition of MSNBC’s MTP Daily. “As Mitch McConnell promised they would, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to temporarily fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. That leaves the government heading toward a shutdown on Thursday, and a much more catastrophic fiscal crisis in just weeks.”
Todd further explained that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the deadline to raise the debt ceiling was October 18: “If it doesn't happen by then, the U.S. could default on its financial obligations, which would of course crash the stock market and plunge the country into a catastrophic near-term recession.”
Todd then interviewed Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who had also voted in 2019 against raising the debt ceiling, a measure that was carried with Democratic support and less than half of the Republican caucus.
Todd’s opening question even stressed the core issue that Senate Republicans are actively obstructing the raising of the debt ceiling even though it would have majority support overall to pass: “I understand you don't want to vote for the debt ceiling, and I know where you are on debt issues. But explain to me why filibustering it is good for the country?”
When Braun discussed mounting debt issues, Todd had a ready response about the debts that had been accumulated under the previous Republican administration.
“President Trump's tax bill was a big mistake in your mind, then, right?” Todd asked rhetorically. “It wasn't paid for, added to the deficit, and so the debt — so, you know, you would not support raising the debt ceiling to help pay for that, either?” (Braun was first elected in 2018, after the Trump tax cut bill had passed in 2017.)
Having asked the question though, Todd failed to follow up on Braun’s false assertion that “pre-COVID,” the Trump tax cut had been “so close to paying for itself” with greater economic growth. In fact, Trump had vastly increased the national debt even before the pandemic, and the fiscal consequences of those tax cuts are still continuing into the present, thus requiring more federal borrowing.
In fairness, Todd instead returned to another valid point about the current irresponsibility of congressional Republicans: “Again, why play with the American economy and use this arbitrary, phony issue, a statutory power that Congress has that is literally just a magical line in the sand that Congress creates? Why use this as a way to punish the American economy? This is — you've said this yourself, … it's not a Republican debt or a Democratic debt, it's an American debt, and it's been accumulated by all Americans. Why should the Republicans stay on the sidelines here? Why should you be responsible for governing, if you're going to be irresponsible when in the minority?”
But then toward the end of the interview, Todd fell back on another tired framing that mainstream media outlets have used for the debt ceiling countdown, about this being a “game of chicken” and the fault of “politics.”
“It's a game of chicken, though, Senator,” Todd said. “It looks absurd to the average person. It's why people hate politics when you play a legislative tactical game like this. Everybody knows it has to be raised, including Sen. McConnell. Nobody wants to face that catastrophic issue of not raising it. You just simply want to stay on the sidelines and let the other guys do it. It just looks — it looks dysfunctional on purpose.”
After Braun changed the topic to a complaint that COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandates will exacerbate the economic problems by causing a worker shortage (rather than the intended effect of stopping the further spread of new variants), Todd ended on a final and totally gratuitous note of both-sidesism.
“Well, it's hard, I don't see the logic in making it — going out of your way to make it harder for the economy to come back on this issue,” Todd said. “But I understand it's a partisan decision that both parties, I guess at times, can claim they make. But this one feels intentionally disruptive.”
In fact, there is no precedent of Democrats having blocked the raising of the debt ceiling in the way that Republicans are doing now. In addition to the 2019 vote, Democrats also previously provided the necessary votes in 2017 — when they were in the minority in both houses of Congress. But even with his mostly tough questioning, Todd apparently felt the need to fall back on a persistently wrong media narrative about “both parties.”