Sunday shows treat McConnell’s “Russian roulette” on debt ceiling with kid gloves

This should be about Senate Republicans threatening to cause an economic collapse — not a “game of chicken the two parties are playing”

Mainstream media Sunday shows gave scant coverage Sunday morning to a major peril facing the U.S. economy — the potential for the U.S. government to default on debt payments if Republicans continue to block the raising of the debt ceiling. And when they did cover it, it was all too often treated in a way that took Republican hypocrisy on the issue for granted.

The Washington Post has previously reported on the potential economic consequences of a default: “Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, found that a prolonged impasse over the debt ceiling would cost the U.S. economy up to 6 million jobs, wipe out as much as $15 trillion in household wealth, and send the unemployment rate surging to roughly 9 percent from around 5 percent.”

Republicans are threatening to use the filibuster to impose a 60-vote threshold, thus hindering the Democratic majority in Congress from being able to avert a default on U.S. debt. Mainstream media outlets have been treating the potential U.S. debt default as “good news” or an “opportunity” for the very Republicans who are provoking the crisis — or chalking it up to “congressional dysfunction” and a problem for the Biden administration to solve.

This conventional wisdom was on full display Sunday morning, during a panel discussion on CNN’s Inside Politics. Politico’s congressional bureau co-chief Burgess Everett said, for example: “Part of the problem, at least for Democrats, is that the debt limit deadline is a little bit later in October. So, if they want Republicans to feel the heat, they're not feeling it right now.”

He then predicted that a vote on a government funding bill and debt limit increase would fail on Monday — with Republican intransigence posing a problem for Democrats: “Then there’s going to be a mad scramble to keep the government open. The risk to doing that is that Republicans may not change their mind, which increases the prospects of a default, and you kind of hamstring the rest of your agenda if you’re constantly doing these short-term spending bills to keep the government open.”

Guest anchor Manu Raju, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent, very nearly got the actual point about McConnell’s hypocrisy — before the show pivoted back to the typical both-sides narrative, while falsely elevating McConnell’s talking points.

The show replayed a clip of McConnell saying that “America must never default” and telling Democrats “don't play Russian roulette with our economy. Step up and raise the debt ceiling.”

“Of course, the same could be said about him. Democrats say he needs to provide the votes,” Raju commented — then describing the ongoing situation as “this game of chicken the two parties are playing.”

Meanwhile, CNN uncritically displayed a chyron: “McConnell: ‘Don’t play Russian roulette’ with debt ceiling.”

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Citation From the September 26, 2021, edition of CNN’s Inside Politics with Abby Phillip

“Clearly, that is not a man who is feeling any heat to do anything right now, particularly anything that would help Democrats out of what is clearly a tight situation,” said New York Times congressional editor Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

She further said that Democrats would try to present McConnel as practicing a double standard — rather than outright acknowledging that this is exactly what McConnell is committing: “The Democrats are not going to allow this debt ceiling to not be raised. They are going to find a way to do this, and I think Mitch McConnell knows that, and that's why he's playing such hardball. They do, I think, want to extract maximum pain from the Republicans, though, on the way there, and to make them look irresponsible, and like they’re setting a double standard that Democrats didn’t force on Republicans when Republicans controlled the government.”

Later in the morning, CNN anchor Jake Tapper actually did a better job on State of the Union, pointing out repeatedly in an interview with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) that the debt ceiling had to do with paying for spending that had already occurred, “including $8 trillion of debt under the Trump administration.”

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Citation From the September 26, 2021, edition of CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper

Over on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the anchor’s line of questioning to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seemed to take for granted Republican intransigence and the dangers it presented. “You said the government is going to stay open. Are you as confident that the government is going to avoid default?” Stephanopoulos asked. “Because Republicans have made it very clear that they’re not going to provide any votes.”

“Isn’t that irresponsible beyond words?” Pelosi answered. “The full faith in credit of the United States should not be questioned —that’s in the Constitution of the United States, the 14th amendment. Go look at that, it’s in the Constitution of the United States.”

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Citation From the September 26, 2021, edition of CNN’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Pelosi further reminded viewers that Democrats had in fact “cooperated on three occasions when President Trump was president, in order to lift the debt ceiling” and that McConnell has spoken about how destructive a default would be.

“He’s willing to eat that right now,” Stephanopoulos simply responded. “Are you confident Democrats can pass it on their own?”

And the fact that mainstream outlets are so willing to just accept the hypocrisy of Republican leaders — putting the burden of solving problems solely onto Democratic leaders — is itself part of the problem.