Mainstream media coverage of the current federal government debt-ceiling standoff — in which Republicans are threatening to filibuster an essential measure needed to avoid an economic catastrophe — has been pretty horrible so far, with major news outlets treating it as “good news” or an “opportunity” for the very Republicans who are provoking the crisis. Moreover, this has followed a long line of media coverage that falsely treats Republicans as sincere on debt issues, and willfully ignores the party’s own track record on tax cuts and spending increases.
But there was actually a positive example Thursday morning, on CNN’s New Day, putting the blame for the situation squarely on Republicans generally — and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) specifically.
“The full faith and credit of the United States, now just another political football,” said co-anchor John Berman. “But it was not always thus.”
CNN senior political analyst John Avlon then explained that the consequences of a debt default “would damage our credibility and throw the world economy into crisis, while pulling America into recession, almost overnight.”
“And yet, we're playing Russian roulette with this right now, largely because Republicans don't want to help Democrats avoid a national disaster,” Avlon said. “They think it might benefit them politically — despite the fact the Democrats have often extended the debt ceiling for Republican presidents, including three times for Donald Trump.”
Avlon further explained that Democrats had raised the ceiling 18 times under President Ronald Reagan, and instituted the “Gephardt Rule” to deem the ceiling automatically raised for whatever spending Congress itself had passed. “Makes sense, right?” But when Republicans took over Congress in the 1990s, GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich ditched the Gephardt Rule in order to use the risk of default against Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Avlon then highlighted how the debt ceiling standoff in 2011 led to the United States losing its AAA credit rating — while McConnell called debt default a “hostage” that was “worth ransoming.” That is, until the Trump years, when McConnell raised the debt ceiling as a matter of course.
(Full transcript available here.)
Avlon played two clips of McConnell. First off, during a Republican presidency, then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell forthrightly explained in 2019, “Well, we raised the debt ceiling because America can't default. I mean, that would be a disaster.” But this year, under a Democratic president, McConnell publicly declared, “Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling.”
“McConnell's rationale is that this is the Democrats’ problem to solve. And it might be — if Senate Republicans hadn't threatened the filibuster,” Avlon explained, “which means Democrats will need 60 votes to avoid hitting the debt ceiling sometime in October.”
“This is madness,” Avlon concluded. “There’s a reason no other major industrialized nation has a debt ceiling. Because it’s basically an invitation to chaos. … That's why it’s time to ditch the debt ceiling, one way or the other, together.”
Berman further added: “And again, this is not a both-sides thing.”
“Nope,” Avlon replied.
Berman made it clear: “This is one party that has made this an issue.”