Political Animal


May 13, 2011 4:20 PM The kind of people ‘who get eaten by bears’

By Steve Benen

For the last few months, congressional Republicans have fallen into two broad categories when it comes to dealing with the debt ceiling. The first, which includes the GOP leadership in both chambers, believes the debt limit must be raised, and failure to do so would be catastrophic, but this should be nevertheless be held hostage until Democrats give Republicans stuff to make them happy.

The second includes rank-and-file Republicans who simply aren’t very bright, and who are convinced that concepts such as “default” and “full faith and credit” just aren’t a big deal.

This week, we’re starting to see a third group, which is something a hybrid of the first two. This contingent believes a congressionally-created debt crisis would, in fact, be a disaster, but doesn’t believe the deadline is actually the deadline.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said if Congress doesn’t raise the $14.294 trillion debt limit by Aug. 2, the federal government won’t be able to pay all its bills, which would have a “catastrophic economic impact.”

But many conservatives, including some GOP freshman who campaigned in 2010 against raising the debt limit, say he is exaggerating the danger. […]

“When you say the drop-dead day is going to be August, I question that,” said Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.). “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

A senior administration official told Politico, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.”

That’s a good line, but it’s more than just amusing. I can appreciate healthy skepticism as much as the next blogger, but guys like Rooney have to understand they’re playing with fire. When he says, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” when the right-wing congressman may not recognize is a simple truth — if he’s wrong, what he may “see” is 20% unemployment and a global recession.

In the meantime, as guys like Rooney press their (and our) luck, we draw closer to an economic calamity. As Ezra Klein recently explained, “The danger in this is that as the rhetoric ramps up, the market may not realize this is all just more of Washington’s fun and games. Brinksmanship runs the risk of misjudging what is the last minute, or the maximum amount of uncertainty, that the market will accept before it reevaluates the American government’s capacity to pay its debts back in a timely and smooth way.”

In the meantime, 62 leading U.S. business groups, including the American Gas Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, all pleaded with Congress this week to get this done quickly. “With economic growth slowly picking up we cannot afford to jeopardize that growth with the massive spike in borrowing costs that would result if we defaulted on our obligations,” the groups said. “It is critically important that the United States stands fully behind its legal obligations.”

Ordinarily, the “pro-business” Republican Party would take this seriously. For now, GOP leaders simply don’t care.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Chris on May 13, 2011 4:32 PM:

    I'm mystified as to why these business groups aren't having more influence on this issue. It seems that on every other significant issue, these major GOP contributors pull the strings. But when it comes to the debt ceiling, they're being ignored? I don't get it.

  • jjm on May 13, 2011 4:34 PM:

    Republican congressmen must be taking big bucks from foreign / international business interests. Is the Chamber of Commerce weighing on this? They have tons of foreign members.
    Treason anyone?

  • Dave Munger on May 13, 2011 4:38 PM:

    Part of the problem is the mainstream media doesn't portray this as different from the usual Washington politicking. There were dire warnings about a government shutdown, which didn't come true. So why should we be worried about this?

    The reason, of course, is that markets operate on perceptions, not just on what Congress et al. finally end up doing. If there is a swing in the markets, it will come a lot faster than Congress can react. I wish we'd start seeing more MSM reports explaining why this is important and why Joe The Plumber shouldn't be making economic policy.

  • dalloway on May 13, 2011 4:39 PM:

    Funny, in all the hand-wringing about the debt ceiling and speculation about exactly how dumb the freshmen Republicans are, I haven't seen any mention of this as an electoral strategy. Couldn't they actually be okay with default and 20% unemployment? In their beady little minds, wouldn't that mean Obama would not be re-elected? And isn't that what they want most of all?

  • ComradeAnon on May 13, 2011 4:42 PM:

    Not that Congress was full of geniuses in the past, but the number of really stoopid people in Congress now is truly astounding. When presented with empirical evidence, it's dismissed as opinion.

  • DAY on May 13, 2011 4:42 PM:

    Perhaps it is time to point out to these congressmen that their salaries are part of the "government debt", and-just to be on the safe side- we will cease paying them NOW, not in August.

    As Will Hunting said to the Harvard jerk, "Do you like apples?"
    "Uhh, yeah."
    "Well, I got her phone number! How do like them apples?"

  • Captain Obvious on May 13, 2011 4:46 PM:

    Hate to state the OBVIOUS once again (Ok, not really), but these clowns got nothin' the next election unless the economy is in the tank, and they know it. Governance 'for the people' just isn't their thing.

  • CRA on May 13, 2011 5:00 PM:

    "These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears."

    It's a great line. When I was a kid, my grandma used to rent us a rustic cabin at Sequoia National Park for a week every summer. Bear sightings were common. One year I saw something amazing. A family had left food unattended on their cabin's porch. They caught a mama bear and her cub digging in. The mama had tipped over a jug of cheap red wine on the table and was busy licking it up when the stupidest woman alive decided to take action. Perhaps driven over the edge by the loss of her wine, she picked up a stick and began hitting the mama bear, yelling loudly. Inexplicably, the bear ignored her (totally), finished up, and wandered off.

    Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.) is like that woman, and if things improve for this country, he'll be just as proud of himself as that woman was when the bear left without mauling her.

  • Bob M on May 13, 2011 5:10 PM:

    These are the same lamebrains who believed in things from Saddam's WMDs in 2001 to Obama's Kenyan birth in 2011, all without seeing anything. And when they did see the truth, they couldn't take it.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 13, 2011 5:10 PM:

    @Captain Obvious:

    Yes, but they don't yet get that it's not a zero sum game. Just because the public will be rather stupidly incensed at the Democrats for the mess the Republicans make, it could also not help the Republicans for a few reasons:

    1. Pissing off big business will get them primaried by "responsible" candidates. Granted, in Tea Party Looneyville, i'm not sure how much that will help.

    2. Winning elections by causing their primary constituents to lose fortunes means the rich will think twice about supporting them in future elections, which they will need because

    3. Once they take the economy into the crapper, even sweeping every office in the land in 2012 won't win them much for long. They plainly have no clue how to govern, and reducing the tax rate for anyone making $250K+ to zero and hoping enough poor die off to hurt the Democrats won't exactly be enough to win them elections in 2014 and 2016 when the economy will still be hemorrhaging.

    Pretty depressing that we'll go through most of this decade before things can get better, though. Hooray for the biggest economy being located here in Stupidland.

  • SYSPROG on May 13, 2011 5:22 PM:

    Rooney, etal. seem to think that just being elected graced them with wisdom and knowledge on all SORTS of things their little pea brains never grappled with. They 'believe' going to a committee meeting and being told what to think is the same as having 'facts'. The media doesn't help AT ALL by not correcting their misstatements on the air. Then there is the whole 'victim' psychology that they firmly believe in...

  • danimal on May 13, 2011 5:30 PM:

    At some point in the near future, the stock market will drop hundreds of points in a short period of time due to "uncertainty" surrounding the debt ceiling. Expect Mr Boehner to scramble at that time, and not a minute before.

  • hell's littlest angel on May 13, 2011 5:30 PM:

    “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.”

    Well then, what are the bears waiting for?

  • John on May 13, 2011 5:57 PM:

    A senior administration official told Politico, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.”

    The nation should only be so lucky to be rid of these imbeciles and fools. Bring on the hungry bears, as many as are needed!

  • MCD on May 13, 2011 7:44 PM:

    If Wall Street was serious about getting the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling, they'd start donating to Democrats.

  • madstork123 on May 13, 2011 7:44 PM:

    I know this won't happen, but the Dems should just fold up and walk away. Tell Bohner that when he comes back with a realistic proposal, they'll talk. Then the Dems should have someone go on every talk show that they can get and blame the Republicans, by name, for the issue. The Dems should just hammer them over and over with skipping out on the debt. Don't talk about anything else.

  • MCD on May 13, 2011 7:51 PM:

    And on a completely different thought stream...

    What would Boehner do if suddenly Harry Reid started saying "unless we pull all troops out of Iraq & Afghanistan, cut the Pentagon budget in half, pass a gay marriage law, and raise tax rates back to Reagan levels, WE aren't going to raise the debt limit. Oh, and since everyone hates Obamacare, we need Medicare For All as well."?

    I almost wish Reid would... I think we'd have a clean debt ceiling bill by Tuesday.

  • Richard Cadena on May 13, 2011 9:37 PM:

    I am an expatriate who has lived in Mexico for many years. About two weeks or so ago, the Mexican government sold 4.5 billion dollars of its US dollar reserves and bought gold with that money. Undoubted internal factors had a certain bearing on this decision by the Mexican government, but I also think that events happening outside of Mexico are also part of that mix. I would like to know if other governments around the world are doing or have done something of this nature within the last two weeks. The world has no tolerance for internal games that US politicians may wish to play. I hope Americans have no tolerance for this type of nonsense either and and flood their representatives in Washington with phone calls, e-mails, twitter messages, etc.

  • Texas Aggie on May 14, 2011 12:45 AM:

    The only stick that the money honchos have that the republicans respect is their money and how they donate it. If Wall St. started helping out the Democrats, then it would attract Boehner's and McConnell's attention, but until then, those two aren't going to pay any attention to their benefactors.

    The thought has occurred to me that Boehner and McConnell have informed the financial elite that they are actually going to raise the debt limit and have given them the real story on what will be demanded of the Democrats. That would allay some of the fears of Wall St., but if B and Mc go too far off script, then Wall St. will get upset again. And given how well Wall St. has done since Obama's election, there is more than a slight chance that they would support him again the way they did when he was running against McCain and whosis.

  • Ron Byers on May 14, 2011 7:04 AM:

    The initial deadline was in May. The Treasury says unexpected revenues exteneded it to August. I have been told by people who should know that the government is already slowing down payments to contractors. The juggling has already started.

  • smartalek on May 14, 2011 10:29 AM:

    "When presented with empirical evidence, it's dismissed as opinion." -Dave Munger 5/13/2011 4:38 PM

    I mean no disrespect when I say that I think this underestimates the situation.
    One of the signature characteristics of the current standard Publican / "conservative" model is major projection of their characteristics onto their political opponents. But I don't think that's just a tactic for them; I think they genuinely believe that Democrats and liberals really are just as manipulative, deceitful, mendacious, and corrupt as they are.
    And since they clearly have no qualms at all when it comes to lying thru their teeth not just about this factoid, that bill, the other policy proposal, but about the entire fabric of reality, about how the world works and what is actually going on in that world, they may well assume that the claims of impending financial disaster have no more reality behind them than their projections of financial disaster if taxes on the wealthy were to be raised by the 3% under discussion of late (back to the levels they were at in the go-go years of the 90s).
    If I am right on this, then the only question remaining is why they would expect the CofC and the i-bankers -- normally the fairly staunch allies of the Publicans (the 1st crew, at least; the 2nd do give $ to Dem's, and thus might be suspect) -- would be in on the scam.

  • max on May 14, 2011 5:37 PM:

    The GOPers all know they have to damage the economic recovery to have any chance in 2012, but they have a group of kooks in their midst who want to risk wrecking the recovery. Its a dangerous game trying to figure out how angry the voters will be if they vote for a shutdown and the voters (and the establishemt) turns on them. Wisconsin might be a good barometer regarding the real life consequences of overreaching and lying, but time will tell.