Fox News prime-time star Sean Hannity is urging Republicans in Congress to risk a catastrophic default of the U.S. national debt by demanding concessions in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. This irresponsible brinkmanship is nothing new for Hannity, who has been encouraging Republicans to enact government shutdowns and refuse to increase the debt ceiling at least as far back as 2011, all the while downplaying the potentially catastrophic consequences. Media Matters has collected nearly 50 examples of Hannity using his platform to promote this disastrous agenda.
Last week, Axios reported that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had informed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that the U.S. government will reach its debt limit — which is the total amount of money the U.S. can borrow to pay for existing, previously authorized spending — on January 19 and then begin so-called “extraordinary measures” to avoid default, which include accounting tricks like the Treasury Department suspending payments to government employee benefit funds. It is important to emphasize that raising the debt ceiling does not authorize additional spending; it merely allows the government to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized.
Prior to the 2022 midterm elections, The Washington Post reported that McCarthy vowed to use the debt ceiling to force federal spending cuts, possibly including Social Security and Medicare. And a January 13 article from the Post explained that House Republicans are preparing a plan to tell the Treasury which payments to prioritize during a default, which the Post described as “unprecedented and hugely controversial” which “could turn into a major political liability for the GOP,” and is not likely to work.
An estimate from Moody's Analytics earlier this month predicted that in a prolonged default scenario, the U.S. would slide into recession, with the Gross Domestic Product falling by almost 4%. Some six million jobs would be lost, driving the unemployment rate up to 9%. The resulting stock market sell-off would erase $15 trillion in household wealth. In the short term, interest rates would spike, and in the long term, they would never fall back to pre-default lows.
Maya MacGuineas of the conservative-leaning Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which otherwise encourages reduced federal spending to reduce the budget deficit and national debt, told CNN that deliberating defaulting on the debt by refusing to raise the debt ceiling “would be such a self-imposed disaster that we wouldn’t recover from.”
And as tens of millions of America’s retired, disabled, veteran, and needy citizens face the risk of their federal payments being cut off during a default, multimillionaire Sean Hannity, with his comfortable perch at Fox News, has been urging House Republicans to threaten shutting down the government and defaulting on the national debt to extract concessions from Democrats. (Hannity is perhaps mistakenly conflating a shutdown with a debt ceiling breach even though funding for the government was passed in December and will last through this September.)
- On the January 10 edition of Hannity’s radio show, he noted the debt ceiling limit is approaching and said, “This is the opportunity for Republicans to say, ‘You know what? We're not gonna pay for this. And we're not gonna pay for that. And we're not gonna pay for this. And we're not gonna pay for that. And there’s not much that you’re going to be able to do to stop us.’” He also denied the consequences of Republicans shutting down the government.
- Later during the same radio program, Hannity interviewed Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) and urged Republicans to use “the power of the purse that Republicans in the House have” to take advantage of the debt ceiling crisis, while again dismissing the consequences of a government shutdown.
- On the January 10 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity interviewed McCarthy and brought up the debt ceiling. He again downplayed the consequences of Republicans shutting down the government: “Essential services will exist. Grandma, mom and dad, they're going to get their Social Security check. Medicare's not going to be shut down. The military's not going to be shut down. Now, there might be people that get furloughed, but odds are pretty high that when they get their free vacation, they will get back pay.” Hannity then asked McCarthy to justify shutting down the government and not raising the debt ceiling, which McCarthy deflected from, saying “it doesn’t have to come to that” because he and President Joe Biden are already in discussion.
- On January 11, Hannity agreed with a caller to his radio show that the government should be shut down, saying that “you’re gonna need some adults to draw a line in the sand” and House Republicans have “the power of the purse” to reduce federal spending. “They need to use it.”
- On the January 13 edition of his radio show, Hannity referenced the upcoming debt ceiling limit and said it’s Republicans' “opportunity to now say no to reckless spending.”
- And on Hannity’s January 13 Fox show, he talked about the “debt ceiling showdown” and instructed the GOP: “Let me be very clear to the House GOP. You better be ready to hold your ground.”
Hannity has preached his gospel of disastrous shutdowns and debt ceiling standoffs dozens of times since 2011, even amid their harmful economic consequences.
Following the 2011 debt ceiling standoff, the ratings firm Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. from its top credit rating for the first time in history, which caused the largest stock market decline at the time since the 2008 financial crisis. (The 2011 standoff, which was led by Republicans claiming a desire to reduce government spending, actually increased the Treasury's long-term borrowing costs and thereby increased spending by $1.3 billion that fiscal year alone.) In 2013, the GOP government shutdown cost about $24 billion in lost economic output. And the five-week government shutdown that began in December 2018, the longest in U.S. history, cost the economy $11 billion.
The following list of several dozen examples includes just a taste of the times since 2011 that Hannity demonstrated the same pattern he has followed so far in 2023, including urging Republicans to force a government shutdown or hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to extract some kind of policy concession from Democrats. Hannity gives the GOP cover to do so by downplaying or lying about the consequences — he is especially fond of pretending that federal workers receiving no pay for weeks at a time is not a problem. He also has a tendency to accuse Democrats of responsibility for the shutdowns he repeatedly called for Republicans to use as leverage.
- On February 16, 2011, Hannity said: “If Republicans want to put the brakes on, and they say right now is the time. We have got to stop this reckless spending. They're not going to raise the debt ceiling unless they get the cuts they want. Is that a shutdown worth having?”
- On February 25, 2011, Hannity urged then-Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus to blame Democrats for a potential shutdown: “But we see the way the Democrats are going politically, is they're trying to claim that well, Republicans want to shutdown the government. Shouldn't you reverse that in terms of your argument to the American people?”
- On March 8, 2011, Hannity urged Republicans to “shut the government down … until we cut a trillion dollars from the budget.”
- On March 31, 2011, Hannity accused Democrats of “rooting for a shutdown.” Later, he said: “Shut it down. Time for a fight. Shut it down. We've got to stand up now for our kids' future.”
- On April 5, 2011, Hannity urged then-Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan not to compromise to avoid a shutdown, saying: “I believe that the Republicans need to stand by their promise. They promised that they would stand for this. I don't think this is something they should compromise on.”
- On April 12, 2011, Hannity pushed the GOP to reject a budget compromise and instead shut down the government. He also said: “If I was in Congress, I would not vote to raise the debt ceiling.”
- On April 21, 2011, Hannity said: “I just don’t have the great fear” that not raising the debt ceiling “is going to be a calamity.”
- On July 11, 2011, Hannity said: “Now, the left's doomsday rhetoric would have you believe that if Congress does not vote to raise the debt limit by August the 2nd, the American economy would crumble.”
- On July 12, 2011, Hannity continued downplaying concerns about a federal default.
- On July 18, 2011, Hannity blamed a potential U.S. credit downgrade on President Barack Obama’s policies, rather than conservatives’ debt ceiling brinkmanship.
- On December 3, 5, and 6, 2012, Hannity misleadingly criticized a proposal from the Obama administration to reform the debt ceiling to avoid further risks of default, repeatedly and falsely claiming that it would be giving the president a “blank check.”
- On January 8, 2013, Hannity interviewed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and downplayed the reality that failing to raise the debt ceiling will lead to default.
- On January 9, 2013, Hannity said Republicans “have to be willing to shut down until the president cuts spending.”
- On March 18, 2013, Hannity said Republicans should “shut the government down” to repeal the Affordable Care Act, “and I want them to do it.”
- On July 23, 2013, Hannity agreed with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about shutting down the government to remove funding for the Affordable Care Act.
- On July 25, 2013, Hannity threatened Republicans to shut down the government or else “we’ll primary you and we’ll get rid of you.”
- On September 26, 2013, Hannity said the consequences of a default are “overstate[d],” adding: “I'm really not that afraid of it.”
- On September 30, 2013, on the eve of a government shutdown, Hannity dismissed its effects, saying, “This doesn’t impact me mentally.”
- On October 1, 2013, after a shutdown began, Hannity told Republicans to “hold the line.” Later that night, he urged Republicans to keep the government shut down for “a month or two months” if they had to.
- On October 4, 2013, Hannity began to change his tune, asking “who wants this” and calling the shutdown “dysfunctional” and “the worst of the worst,” before changing his mind and urging Republicans not to compromise. “You cave, you’re giving in to bullies and you’re setting a precedence that all they need to do is blame a shutdown on you, even though the truth is the opposite.” He also endorsed another conservative calling it the “Harry [Reid]-Barry [Obama] shutdown show.”
- On October 8, 2013, Hannity said the “worst-case scenario” is if Republicans “give in” on the shutdown and end it.
- On October 9, 2013, Hannity referred to the shutdown he repeatedly demanded as the “Obama-Reid shutdown.”
- On August 3, 2015, Hannity said “we need a Congress” that will risk “shutting down the government for principle.”
- On August 4, 2015, Hannity told Republicans: “Shut it down. Who cares? … Take a stand, be politically courageous.”
- On September 23, 2015, Hannity again called on Republicans to shut down the government.
- On October 8, 2015, Hannity criticized former GOP House Speaker John Boehner for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling before he departed the speakership.
- On November 28, 2017, Hannity downplayed a potential government shutdown as a “paid vacation” for furloughed employees.
- On January 19, 2018, the eve of the first shutdown that year, Hannity was interviewing Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney when he downplayed the effects of a shutdown: “All of the important aspects involving the government continue, and those people that are furloughed usually get their money back, because Congress will give them back pay and a free vacation.”
- On December 11, 2018, as the next shutdown loomed, Hannity again said that it would be “a free vacation” for government employees.
- In early January 2019, Hannity repeatedly downplayed the shutdown’s impact.
- On January 23, 2019, Hannity celebrated that President Donald Trump might prolong the shutdown “indefinitely.” “This president's going to get the money for the wall one way or the other,” Hannity declared. “And that should be a reality that they [Democrats] face.”
- On February 11, 2019, Hannity criticized a compromise that ended the shutdown and said: “Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain.” A couple of days later, Hannity changed his tune and gave Trump clearance to accept the deal.
- On September 27, 2021, Hannity said: “I don't think any Republicans should vote to increase the debt ceiling.”
- On September 29, 2021, Hannity said: “You cannot call yourself a conservative or even a Republican” and support raising the debt ceiling.
- On November 22, 2021, Hannity instructed GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) not to “assist in raising the debt ceiling again.”