Fox's Bill Hemmer Doesn't Quite Get This Whole “Default” Thing

Today, America Live anchor Bill Hemmer tried to tell Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) (and the Fox News audience) that the federal government will be able to cover all of its bills, even if the debt ceiling doesn't get raised. In the process, he turned an entire interview segment into a showcase for his virtuosic reality denial.


HEMMER: Where are we, from your view?

WELCH: Well, it's a mess. You know, there's a reason Ronald Reagan, who was a fierce fighter on budget and tax issues, kept this issue of the debt ceiling and America paying its bills completely separate. And that is, America paying its bills, and linking these two things up, when we're up against the wall, is probably the worst time to try to have a long term fiscal solution that this country needs.

HEMMER: No, no. I apologize to interrupt here. No one's suggesting the United States would not pay its bills. There still would be revenue into Washington August 3.

WELCH: Well, you know what, I actually think that's a hopeful theory. I hope you're right. But if we default on August 2, we're gonna -- it's looking more and more like this whole spectacle is contributing to a down -- likelihood of a downgrade. It's just very regrettable. I mean, if we have to pay $100 billion more in debt service, that's gonna be bad for the Republican point of view, it's going to be bad for the Democratic point of view. So, bottom line, we've got to get somewhere to a compromise.

HEMMER: But my comment was not just one that was born out of hope, it was born out of fact: $200 billion a month in revenue to Washington. You use that money, prioritize your spending, and who gets paid. And that's how the bills are paid.

Hemmer is right, insofar as his comment “was not one that was born out of hope.” Rather, it seems to be born out of total fiscal and mathematical illiteracy.

He's in the ballpark when he says that the government raises $200 billion a month, but that's nowhere near enough to make all of its outstanding obligations. According to Jerome H. Powell, George H.W. Bush's Treasury undersecretary, the federal government will make roughly $172 billion between August 3 and August 31. But its bills will add up to about $306 billion, “a shortfall of $134 billion.”

So when Hemmer argued that, “No one's suggesting the United States would not pay its bills,” he should have said, “Everyone with any grasp of the issue at hand and basic arithmetic understands that it would be mathematically impossible for the United States to pay all of its bills.”

The weird thing is, Hemmer comes close to acknowledging this barely seconds later, when he concedes that the government would have to “prioritize ... spending.” What does he think it means to “prioritize?” Because my understanding is that you usually only need to prioritize a bunch of different demands when there's the possibility that you can't fully satisfy all of them.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Hemmer, though. After all, he's only toeing the party line. Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have spent a long time laboring under the impression that Obama could somehow magically guarantee everyone's Social Security benefits would remain intact even the event of a default.

That's the heart of the conservative message right now: It's “fearmongering” to suggest there might be any real consequences to their fecklessness.