The right’s debt ceiling strategy depends on the failure of the press
Republicans need the political press to do a lot of bad journalism in order to carry out their strategy of forcing through devastating spending cuts by leveraging the prospect of a calamitous default on U.S. debt. They need political journalists to produce wishy-washy “both sides” coverage that hides the party’s ultimate culpability and shields it from blame. And the latest coverage from The New York Times shows that their plan may already be working.
It shouldn’t be difficult to acknowledge that Republicans will be the ones at fault if the U.S. breaches the statutory limit on federal borrowing in June. Members of Congress of both parties routinely voted for clean debt limit hikes during Donald Trump’s presidency, which also saw record debt increases. But with Joe Biden in the White House, GOP leaders started saying last fall that they would require significant spending cuts – including to Social Security and Medicare – alongside further debt limit increases if their party won the House. After they gained a narrow majority, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reportedly pledged “to not raise the debt limit without major cuts” to secure the speakership. The party’s right-wing media allies are loudly cheering them on. House Republicans could, at any time, vote to prevent a global economic catastrophe, but they are refusing to do so unless Democrats give them something else they want.
And yet, here’s how the Times handled the GOP’s ransom demand in Friday’s The Morning newsletter:
The bad news: Democrats and Republicans are divided. House Republicans say they want to use a debt-limit increase — and the threat of default — as leverage to cut government spending. Top Democrats have likened the Republican stance to a hostage-taking situation. The sides can’t agree even on whether to negotiate.
Both sides, per the Times, apparently share the blame: The Republicans who are taking the global economy hostage, and the Democrats who are saying that Republicans are taking the global economy hostage rather than just paying their price.
That’s not the only such false equivalency in the piece. The Times put Republican hostage-taking when it controls a house of Congress and Democrats are in the White House alongside a protest vote Biden took as a senator in 2006, when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. From the piece:
But that has changed over the past three decades. Republicans, in particular, have used the passage of bills increasing the limit as leverage to try to force spending cuts on Democratic administrations. Democrats, too, have used it as a political tool: In 2006, Joe Biden, then a senator, joined his Democratic colleagues in opposing a debt ceiling increase to protest the cost of tax cuts and the Iraq war.
The Times added:
A crucial ingredient in this brinkmanship is divided government. Raising the debt ceiling is less of a problem when the same party holds power in both chambers of Congress and the White House. But when the government is divided, it makes the current scenario possible: A Republican-controlled House threatens to block a debt-limit increase that Democrats who control the Senate and White House would like to pass.
But the problem isn’t divided government per se – Democratic Congresses have no issue raising the debt ceiling when a Republican is in the White House, as was the case in 2007-2008 and 2019-2020. The problem is that when the government is divided with Republicans in control of Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the Republicans engage in this reckless behavior.
If Republicans really want to slash spending – including to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – that’s their right. There’s nothing preventing the party from spending the next two years talking about their plans in hopes of winning the White House and Senate and then executing them. Indeed, there’s nothing preventing them from spending the next two years talking about “critical race theory” and girls’ sports in hopes of winning the White House and Senate and then springing their plans on the public.
But they don’t seem interested in trying that, presumably for the same reason that unified Republican governments under Presidents Trump and George W. Bush didn’t lead to massive spending cuts – those cuts would be incredibly unpopular and would likely destroy the party’s political standing.
Instead, the GOP plan for cutting spending is to try to force the Democrats to agree to (maybe even propose) the cuts as the price to avert global economic catastrophe. That sounds insane when you write it out, so a big part of the strategy is trying to prevent the press from doing so. The party’s leaders and its propagandists are busy working the refs.
There’s no good reason for journalists to do their dirty work.