Political Animal


June 01, 2011 8:00 AM Still waiting for the GOP’s ‘adult moment’

By Steve Benen

Shortly after voters gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) struck a refreshingly responsible tone about the debt ceiling. “I’ve made it pretty clear to [my caucus] that as we get into next year, it’s pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with [the debt limit],” Boehner said after the midterms. “We’re going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part.”

The House GOP, of course, quickly abandoned this maturity. Following through with American obligations is out; playing chicken with the economy is in. Acting like adults is out; acting like intemperate children is in.

Late yesterday afternoon, Republicans brought a “clean” debt ceiling bill to the House floor for the express purpose of watching it fail. The point was to let a right-wing caucus thump its chest, telling the White House that the hostage strategy — give GOP lawmakers sweeping cuts or they’ll cause a recession on purpose — is still on.

But the White House already knew that, making yesterday’s little charade the latest in a series of pathetic displays. When the dust settled, the final vote was 97 to 318, with 7 Dems voting “present,” and 9 members not voting at all. Every Republican voted against their own bill, as was predetermined when it was introduced.

The GOP leadership is well aware of the dangers in stunts like these, so they “scheduled the vote for after the stock market’s close, and in the preceding days called Wall Street executives to assure them that the vote was just for show.”

The showdown over the issue is likely to continue well into the summer, with consequences for both parties and, potentially, for the economy and Wall Street, where the bond market in particular is watching the partisan standoff closely. Yet for all the talk of crisis should Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, when the Treasury Department says it will run out of room to meet all the government’s obligations without further borrowing, the financial markets are likely to yawn at Tuesday’s proceedings.

“Wall Street is in on the joke,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Right. It’s all just a big game, which happens to put the global economy at risk. Few seem to believe Republicans would deliberately cause a catastrophe — basic American patriotism should prevent anyone from crushing the country’s economy on purpose — though the “the joke” itself may prove dangerous. 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.”

The question becomes one of whether investors believe Republicans are crazy or really crazy. Yesterday, the GOP’s message was, “We’re pretending to be the latter, but don’t worry, we’re really the former.” The moment the financial industry stops believing that line, there’s cause for genuine alarm.

As for nervous Democrats, who were split on the House floor yesterday, it’s worth noting that the National Republican Congressional Committee issued two kinds of press releases after the vote: one attacked Democrats who voted for the Republican bill, the other attacked Democrats who voted against the Republican bill. The Dems who sided with the GOP were smeared as cowardly hypocrites; the Dems who sided against the GOP labeled “brazen kings of debt” who want to “make the problem worse.”

I hope congressional Democrats notice this, because it’s a reminder that appeasing Republicans doesn’t work. The GOP is going to attack no matter what they do, so Dems might as well do the right thing, because Republicans will try to smear them either way.

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.


Post a comment
  • j on June 01, 2011 8:08 AM:

    If the media would do it's job properly we would have some responsible voices telling it like it is, the republicans are the sorriest, most dangerous individuals on the planet.
    Alas, we have media like CNN, who are following every word that drips like venom from Sarah Palin's lips, also giving time to Breitbart's idiocy and treating it like it could be right, I was ashamed to see Dana Bash & Co trying to grill Weiner.

  • K in VA on June 01, 2011 8:11 AM:

    Why become an adult when childish temper tantrums give you all you want?

  • terraformer on June 01, 2011 8:11 AM:

    Congressional Dems won't notice this. Not because they can't; because they won't. Because they're paid not to. It's much more difficult to be a Democrat these days, because most of them have to act good while at the same time assisting evil. Republicans? They just have to act themselves - just evil. One party is mostly and one party is completely owned by the rich.

    Anyone with a functioning brain cell recognizes the kabuki dance of Washington, which is set to a tune that only the rich can hear. And the media - oops, forgive me - the Ministry of Disinformation and Obfuscation, ensures that objective reality is never ever presented nor discussed.

  • Anonymous on June 01, 2011 8:12 AM:

    Once again the Dems show themselves to be cowards.

    The debt ceiling is about paying bills racked up over the past 30+ years. Do great nations pay their bills or not? Repugs say, "No." Once again, they show how they love to tax cut and not pay for things. Dems, well they just tucked their tails between their legs and whined about a political vote.

  • j on June 01, 2011 8:18 AM:

    So how does that work, the repubs won't raise the debt limit, but Ryans budget adds 6 trillion to the debt,and they voted for it, so where does that leave us?

  • bleh on June 01, 2011 8:25 AM:

    Really, I just don't understand how the Dems can let themselves get played this way.

    Talk about Charlie Brown and the football. What is their problem?

  • SaintZak on June 01, 2011 8:25 AM:

    The Democrats should have all just ignored that silliness and not voted.

    Obama should call Boehner, McConnell and Cantor to the Oval Office and tell tham that he won't sign anything but a clean bill. period. And if one doesn't land on his desk he'll bring the whole mess down on their heads. Time to play hardball on this one.

  • Alli on June 01, 2011 8:27 AM:

    The Dems are aware. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer gave their strong opinions on this vote. Whatever way Dems voted, it has nothing to do with cowardice as one said above. I'm pretty sure they voted the way that is least harmful. They are politicians remember.

  • SortofBlueState on June 01, 2011 8:30 AM:

    With the increasing influence of the crazier all the time Rabid Right, negotiating with the Republican leadership is like Chamberlain negotiating with Hitler at Munich. "Peace for our time" will be short lived and only delay the confrontation. Until Boehner and his minions accept that no is not a path to agreement--give nothing.

  • Mark on June 01, 2011 8:32 AM:

    When can Geithner begin defunding the legislative branch as the first step in meeting our debt obligations without defaulting or harming regular citizens. Halt salaries, end the pension plan, suspend health and other benefits. How long would the game last if this were the first step taken?

  • c u n d gulag on June 01, 2011 8:33 AM:

    I'm tired of playing chicken with these people.

    You know the Democrats will veer off, and so do the Republicans.

    And that allows the Republicans to win these games of chicken every time.

    I'm not advocating a head-on collision, mind you,

    Let Wall Street put up the red flag and aim it at the Republicans.

    But no, the Democrats will concede. And we all lose. Except the assholes who got us into this mess in the first place.

    CLogra reduced, eh CAPTCHA?
    Well, I probably had too much CLogra anyway...

  • SteveT on June 01, 2011 8:35 AM:

    Few seem to believe Republicans would deliberately cause a catastrophe -- basic American patriotism should prevent anyone from crushing the country's economy on purpose . . . .

    Few believe that parents would allow their child to die, but we read about parents who believe that modern medicine is a sin and allow their children to die rather than get them help for easily treated conditions like appendicitis.

    The conservative True Believers use faith-based economics. St. Ronald delivered the message from on high that taxes aren't just bad for the economy, they're a tool of Satan that threatens the salvation of one's soul.

    You can't argue with such people because facts won't change their minds. All you can do is discredit them and get them voted out of office.

  • davidp on June 01, 2011 8:38 AM:

    Aren't the GOP calculating that all adverse economic consequences are going to work to their benefit? Since they assume that the incumbent President is punished for a bad economy, they have no incentive to act like adults.

  • tomb on June 01, 2011 8:39 AM:

    If I was Nancy Pelosi I would have rallied all the Dems to vote for raising the debt ceiling and then forced the Republicans to own that vote by characterizing the No vote as irresponsible and politically petty. I think popular opinion would have been on their side.

  • Tom Nicholson on June 01, 2011 8:45 AM:

    The GOP hatred of Obama is so great that the only strategy they have to win back the White House, is to destroy our economy.

    The rapture is about totally screwing up any sensible government function, thereby creating discord and rancor.

    Out of the ashes of the shattered American economy will emerge a savior.....

  • Hart Williams on June 01, 2011 9:02 AM:

    We're in for a really long wait, I fear.

    Might as well lay in a large stock of popcorn.

  • blondie on June 01, 2011 9:44 AM:

    And the market's down 50 points in the first 10 minutes of trading. I wonder how much the "symbolic" vote is giving Wall Street the jitters ...

  • Jon on June 01, 2011 9:51 AM:

    Cheers to the Democrats who voted present or skipped the vote.

  • Chris on June 01, 2011 10:50 AM:

    82 Democrats voted against raising the debt ceiling with Republicans. EIGHTY-TWO!!!

    These 82 have enabled the hostage-takers and essentially asked for more of the same.

  • jjm on June 01, 2011 11:11 AM:

    How about Geithner just IGNORES the 'limit' and continues to issue bonds?

    After all, the Bush administration transgressed so many limits, why should Obama hold his to a 'higher' standard?

    The Republicans are indeed using the aggressive tactics that fascists always use to bully us into submission. Time to draw a halt to it.

  • Orwell on June 01, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Speaking of acting like adults, what time is it in Seattle right now?