Mainstream media are downplaying the Republican Party's role in potentially destabilizing the economy and assigning equal blame to both parties. The U.S. Treasury hit the debt limit on Thursday, and Congress must now act to raise the debt ceiling so the federal government can continue to function, but Republicans are making demands to cut spending to Social Security and Medicare in order to keep the lights on in Washington.
If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling in time, the Treasury could default on its payment obligations for the first time in history, which could have disastrous consequences for the American and global economies. Vital entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security would not be disbursed and due to the central role U.S. debt plays in the global financial system, a default could lead to instability in global markets, recession, and massive job loss. However, this can be avoided if Congress votes, as it has repeatedly in the past, to raise the debt limit.
Increasing the debt ceiling has been a routine part of Congress’ work for many years — it has been raised over a dozen times in the last quarter century. While former President Donald Trump occupied the White House, Republicans voted for a debt limit increase three times without incident, but the party is now using the U.S. economy as a bargaining chip to negotiate lower federal spending in a number of areas, as it also did under former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Despite Congress’ history of raising the debt ceiling to avoid financial collapse, mainstream media have treated the Republican position as a reasonable path to lowering government spending, and the Democrats as unwilling to negotiate. The framing suggests that both sides are to blame for the looming threat to the global economy, despite the fact that only Republicans are actually positioning themselves to cause economic harm.
Mainstream media are obscuring conservatives’ role in a potential government shutdown and Treasury default by distributing blame equally, and uncritically pushing GOP talking points in an effort to appear nonpartisan. Mainstream media’s handling has ignored that during House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s brief tenure, the House GOP has moved significantly to the right.
- Politico referred to raising the debt limit as a “political stalemate” and described the positions as: “Conservatives want a deal that includes spending cuts, but the White House says meeting the country’s obligations should be non-negotiable.”
- CNN anchor Erin Burnett framed Republicans holding the economy hostage as “a dangerous game of chicken,” saying, “Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling without any strings attached. The White House — well, they are going to the opposite extreme.”
- On NPR’s Morning Edition, political correspondent Susan Davis said, “For now, McCarthy is the only leader at the negotiating table.”
- On CNN’s Sunday morning political talk show, anchor Jake Tapper suggested to Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) that it would be “irresponsible” for the GOP to not force a fight over the debt ceiling, saying, “We have these crazy deficits, crazy national debt. It's $30 trillion right now … Isn't it time that Congress takes this seriously? And would the Republicans be irresponsible for not forcing this conversation?”
- In an interview with the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Tapper said that it’s “a problem” that “the U.S. government spends a lot more money than it takes in,” and he suggested Democrats are unwilling to negotiate: “Republicans say they are willing to come to the table to discuss raising the debt ceiling but they also want to discuss negotiations to reduce future government spending. … Are you willing to at least sit down and see if there is a deal to be made in any way?”
- While discussing the threat of the U.S. defaulting on its debt, MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart asked White House Council of Economic Advisers member Jared Bernstein: “Why won't the White House initiate some conversations over the debt limit?”
- Introducing a pair of segments, CNN anchor John Berman framed potential economic calamity over the debt ceiling as the fault of both Republicans and Democrats, saying, “Republicans refuse to budge on demands and Democrats refuse to budge on negotiations.” In the report, congressional correspondent Lauren Fox said Republicans and Democrats are “retreating to their corners,” and “sticking to their political talking points.”
- CNN anchor Erin Burnett again referred to Republicans refusing to lift the debt ceiling as “a game of chicken” and asked Khanna, “Are you going to take this to the mat? Are you going to try to call them on their bluff and have a default, or do you think, all right, maybe some spending cuts?”