Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) vow that Republicans will filibuster an increase to the debt ceiling — which would trigger a default on U.S. debt payments for spending that had been accumulated by both parties — needs to be treated as a serious threat to the country rather than just partisan gamesmanship.
To be clear on the stakes, The Washington Post has 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.”
But several major mainstream outlets are bungling their presentation of the facts, essentially taking Republican malfeasance as a mere political game.
The Associated Press, for example, carried a wire piece that on its face pointed out aspects of Republican bad-faith arguments: “Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said since Democrats control the White House and Congress, it’s their problem to find the votes — even though he had relied on bipartisan cooperation to approve the debt limits when Republicans were in charge.”
The problem, though, was the headline: “House OKs debt and funding plan, inviting clash with GOP” — as if Democrats engaging in responsible governance were “inviting” a hostile response.
In another example, Politico said in Wednesday morning’s edition of its Playbook newsletter that the “good news” for McConnell was that he might be able to escape political blame with the American public. The same paragraph noted that it was McConnell himself who was responsible for the situation — so the only way that McConnell could get away with such conduct is if media outlets like Politico keep knowingly treating this as “the blame game.” (Emphasis in original.)
GOOD NEWS FOR MCCONNELL: The latest weekly POLITICO/Morning Consult poll is out this morning and finds that more voters would blame Democrats than Republicans if the U.S. were to default on its debt. The finding comes as Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL is rallying his members to oppose raising the borrowing cap. Asked which party they would blame more, 33% said Democrats, 42% said both parties, and only 16% said Republicans. Nine percent didn’t know. One note of caution: The crisis point is still weeks away, and the blame game has hardly begun.
Reuters also reported on the same poll, in an article titled “Republicans see opportunity in U.S. debt-ceiling standoff.” Remarkably, the article even contained an on-the-record quote from a Republican senator explaining the entire strategy of deflecting blame for national-level sabotage:
Republicans, while insisting they want to avoid a crisis, could be relatively insulated from any threat of default.
“The American people will say, ‘I’m mad at everybody’,” Senator James Lankford told Reuters. “But I don’t know that it becomes the fault of the group that’s in the minority in the House, in the minority in the Senate and not in the White House.”
A Sept. 18-20 Morning Consult poll showed that 42% of registered voters would blame both parties equally for any default, with another 33% blaming Democrats but only 16% blaming Republicans.
That strategy is nothing new, as it was explained in a Politico article from December 2016, “The Victory of ‘No,’” detailing how McConnell had set out during the Obama years to foster national dysfunction: “Republican leaders simply did not want their fingerprints on the Obama agenda; as McConnell explained, if Americans thought D.C. politicians were working together, they would credit the president, and if they thought D.C. seemed as ugly and messy as always, they would blame the president.”
And yet media outlets continue to frame McConnell and Senate Republicans as savvy political players, rather than as a public menace. This latest example seems even worse than the media’s typical both-sides coverage, in that it actively rewards civic vice rather than simply pretending there is a false equivalence between two positions.