Political Animal


July 08, 2011 4:50 PM Boehner acknowledges risk

By Steve Benen

There are an alarming number of congressional Republicans who believe undermining the full faith and credit of the United States is acceptable, and voluntary national default wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Their leader, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), disagrees with them.

“While some think we can go past August 2nd, I frankly think it puts us in an awful lot of jeopardy, and puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs,” Boehner told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing.

His statement comes as a quiet rebuke to members of his own party who’ve argued that smacking against the ceiling — or even defaulting briefly on the debt — poses no great risk to the economy.

It also raises the question of why Republicans have refused to raise the borrowing limit without extracting major concessions from Democrats on federal spending. Boehner says he and White House negotiators aren’t narrowing their differences on a comprehensive debt bill very quickly.

As much as I’m glad to see Boehner acknowledge reality, and take some satisfaction in seeing the House GOP’s own leader shoot down irresponsible rhetoric from his own caucus, it’s that last point that stands out for me.

The Speaker, as of this morning, believes failing to raise the debt limit puts the nation, to use his words, “in jeopardy.” He conceded that failure would also make unemployment worse.

What Boehner left unsaid, however, is that he’s proven himself willing to pursue his hostage strategy anyway. In other words, the Speaker knows full well that failing to raise the debt ceiling would put Americans in danger, but he’s choosing to create this risk on purpose anyway. Give Boehner what he and his fellow Republicans demand, or he’ll deliberately “put us in an awful lot of jeopardy.”

Why this isn’t a national scandal is still a mystery to me. For all the talk about what will or won’t get cut, how this will or won’t affect the economy, whether the agreement will be large or enormous, the strategy itself is often lost in the shuffle. John Boehner and his party are threatening to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats meet their demands. The Treasury, the Fed, economists, Wall Street, and business leaders have all pleaded with GOP leaders not to do this, but Republicans ignored them all.

There is no precedent for this, and it shouldn’t be treated as somehow normal. Indeed, it’s often hard to believe policymakers who claim to be patriots would deliberately put us all at risk this way.

And yet, here we are.

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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  • steve duncan on July 08, 2011 5:00 PM:

    I'm not sure why a politician's willingness to commit an act that places the nation at grave risk of financial ruin is so surprising. George Bush invaded Afghanistan and tens of million of citizens of all political and ideological stripe cheered. A few trillion dollars down the rat hole later and, well, here we are. I'd wager a good many decrying the failure to raise the debt limit were also in favor of King George's Crusade. Hypocrisy abounds.

  • Fang on July 08, 2011 5:08 PM:

    @steve duncan

    Actully, I think you hit on something here. We're literally used to politicians doing things that are terrible for the country. It's normal.

    I think since politics has become a kind of sport/media circus, there's no sense of repercussion anymore. What's important is your team wins - no matter how much it hurts the country.

    Patriotism? Not coming into the picture.

  • JW on July 08, 2011 5:10 PM:

    "Indeed, itís often hard to believe policymakers who claim to be patriots would deliberately put us all at risk this way".

    What's difficult for me to understand are the different conclusions Americans have deduced concerning their own recent history.

    Did that thought occur to you in March of 2003, Bubba? If not, why not? And since? What kind of people do you think are running the show?

    For crying out loud, you sound like a simple-minded Claude Rains.

  • Chris on July 08, 2011 5:17 PM:

    I agree with Steve, but at the risk of beating a dead horse, my shock isn't with the actions of GOP politicians. My shock is with the action (inactions) of the media.

    The media has decided that the GOP can bring our legislative branch and economy to its knees, and it isn't newsworthy.

    There is nothing objective about today's big media players. The appearance of objectivity is pretense.

  • ex-curm on July 08, 2011 5:23 PM:

    But will Steve Benen ever link to articles from those on the left critical of Obama's role in this mess, or will he ever criticize Obama himself?

  • square1 on July 08, 2011 5:30 PM:

    Why this isnít a national scandal is still a mystery to me.

    Too funny!

    Word on the street is that Obama gave the GOP a good tongue lashing over all this hostage taking...right after he told them to think bigger re: deficit-reduction and to toss SS benefits into the mix.

  • patrick on July 08, 2011 5:35 PM:

    Indeed, it’s often hard to believe policymakers who claim to be patriots would deliberately put us all at risk this way.

    For many on the far right, putting the government further in debt and thus diminishing government power is seen as a good thing. For those who think "The government is the problem", this is one more variation on the starving the beast tactic they have been using for the past thirty years.
    It's not that they don't consider themselves patriots, but they do not see the relationship between healthy government and healthy society. To them a healthy (and free) society is one rid of the scourge of a government that might work for the common good as opposed to what they perceive to be their individual liberty.
    To them, we will all be better off when government (and not just federal government, as shown in WI, OH, IN ) is on its knees.

  • captain obvious on July 08, 2011 5:38 PM:

    GWB pretended he had a MANDATE with his so-called election, and it's the same with these Bozos.

    The stupid is so thick it hurts.

    (Just like this stupid encryption safety-guard, which takes on average 6 tries to work)

  • steve duncan on July 08, 2011 5:44 PM:

    Right now Congress is approaching our nation's future the same way you'd fell a tree:

    "Pick your lay, or falling corridor, being thoughtful of what the tree will do when it lands. Uneven ground can cause a tree to roll, break, bounce, kick back at you, or explode."

    Courtesy wikiHow
    Marginally analogous I guess.

  • pluege on July 08, 2011 5:47 PM:

    I thought since 9/11 we all agreed to call people who deliberately scared and panicked an entire innocent population to achieve their ends, terrorists? Even more so, the republican terrorism, should it be fully detonated, could very well result in the deaths of innocents.

  • Josef K on July 08, 2011 6:24 PM:

    There is no precedent for this, and it shouldnít be treated as somehow normal. Indeed, itís often hard to believe policymakers who claim to be patriots would deliberately put us all at risk this way.

    And yet, here we are.

    Therein lies the problem. This situation is so far outside our experience, both as a nation and system of government, I'm not sure the GOP fully understands (or, indeed, is even capable of understanding) what they're risking.

    Atop which the White House and Democrats have taken an absurdly passive attitude towards this. Part of their inaction can be chalked up I suppose to the same disbelief Steve expresses, but equally there may be some level of calculation involved. If/when the economy goes off the rails in early August, the White House can legitimately say "its their fault!" But that'll surely be cold comfort to the millions who'll be newly unemployed.

    The only potential silver lining to this is it'll give President Obama the space and impetus to get some kind of jobs program into play. Or perhaps he'll simply wait out the storm and keep steering public anger towards the Republicans.

    I'm not convinced Boehner or McConnell's control of their caucus is strong enough to carry any deal made in the next several days; they've too many true believers in their ranks and aren't facing any push by the public. Sure, their corporate patrons are going to get nervous and press them, but these freshmen are more likely afraid of their Tea Party base turning on them than some bond traders taking a sudden loss on their derivatives.

    The public's continued ignorance of the stakes and misunderstanding of the issue is something that should have been addressed way back in April. Likely as not, most people when asked will liken the debt ceiling to their own maxed out credit cards and insist the government start 'living within its means'. They don't appreciate how this will shake things up in the worst possible ways.

    Mores the pity there, as it didn't need to happen. Who knows what'll happen in the next few days and weeks. Guess we'll just have to see what the next 25 days bring.

  • DAY on July 08, 2011 7:49 PM:

    there is one constant here at Political Animal, and that is civility. Even those who would -and do!-castigate Benen, do it with modest decorum.

    A rare oasis, where we often agree to disagree, without being disagreeable.

  • Pea on July 08, 2011 7:54 PM:

    Nothing worse than being stuck on a team with a bunch whohate the idea of teams or won't learn their value and are out to sabbotage it. Can't they secede or something? here's your hat, what's the hurry?

  • Anonymous on July 08, 2011 8:03 PM:

    Lloyd on July 08, 2011 6:11 PM:

    "But will Steve Benen ever link to articles from those on the left critical of Obama's role in this mess, or will he ever criticize Obama himself?"

    Maybe someday...But let's be honest. Benen and Co. are simply a fully-owned division of the Obamadem Corporation.


    Seriously. Steve is a complete hack. At least when Kevin Drum was here one had the sense that he had a shred of intellectual honesty. And I vote Democratic a majority of the time, for god's sake. Washington Monthly could save some money by having interns simply post White House talking points. But come to think of it, with Benen generating an average of about 7 comments per thread, they can't be paying him much.

  • James M on July 08, 2011 8:25 PM:

    They are already dead.

    There is great line in Highlander 3 (admittedly not a great movie but I liked it) where the Highlander faces his opponent and tells him, 'You are already dead'.

    It may be little comfort to us in the coming months, but I think we are seeing the last gasps of the GOP. While I never accepted its main principles, the GOP used to at least try to be rational and intellectually consistent. Now leading GOP presidential candidates contradict themselves in the same week! It's almost like the space-time continuum doesn't exist for the GOP anymore. The only consistent principle the GOP seems to have left is 'no tax increases anytime'.

    I don't think a 1-issue party has ever managed to last as a major party in U.S. history. With no consistent intellectual prinicples and no new ideas the GOP is already dead. All of the fairly rational members are either retiring or being primaried out, and the remaining members are simple hucksters and snake oil salesmen.

    I think the future of U.S. politics will resemble Japan of the last 50 years, with one super-party (The Democrats) consistently controlling the government and the major political dynamic being intra-party fights between the conservative and liberal wings.

  • jeri on July 08, 2011 8:27 PM:

    Steve Benen is mystified why Republicans say they are willing to take the economy over a cliff to get their way.

    I'm not. I'm mystified why Obama is willing to throw the middle class over that cliff instead.

  • Doug on July 08, 2011 8:36 PM:

    I see DAY spoke too soon; or was that snark?
    As I have said to others, I will repeat to the well-named "Anonymous" - if you're such a great political strategist and tactician, what the hell are you doing posting ant-Obama rants here? Why aren't you out energizing the ten of thousands, nay, tens of MILLIONS of rabid "progressives" who are merely awaiting the magnificent leadership that, at least in your own mind, only you could provide?
    In other words, rant away; all it proves is that you have access to a computer and the bubble YOU live in is as tightly sealed as the one the Republicans inhabit. Thus explaining why opinion originating from two such dissimilar political points of view always sound so alike.
    Lloyd, WHY should Mr. Benen link to "those on the left critical of Obama's role in this mess"? The only contributions I've seen from such sources have nothing better to offer. NOTHING President Obama does is good enough. They castigate the President for things he doesn't do and when he does something they SAY they want him to do, it's ignored.
    Where I come from we have a name for people who act like those I've described in the above paragraph - they're called Republicans.
    Have a nice day...

  • bob h on July 09, 2011 6:30 AM:

    The thing you have to keep in mind is that it could get even worse- there is really no bottom in American politics.
    The 14th Amendment undoubtedly means that existing debt would have to be serviced, but if Obama did that the Republicans presumably would sue him. I fully expect the Republicans in court to demand a default.

  • zandru on July 09, 2011 11:22 AM:

    jeri summarizes "Steve Benen is mystified why Republicans say they are willing to take the economy over a cliff to get their way."

    I'm not. It's the old "Nice economy ya got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

    When Boner talks about the dangers of not raising the debt ceiling, he's not expressing concern, he's threatening the Democrats. Big B knows his own caucus, and he knows the Democrats. Only one will respond to threats, only one will do the "responsible" thing. And the scarier he paints the consequences, the more concessions he can get.

    My fear is that on Monday, the President will proudly announce that the Social Security program is being shut down, Medicare is being eliminated, a Constitutional amendment is being submitted to the States which mandates a balanced budget and government spending to be no more than 10% of GDP - and the debt ceiling has been raised by $500B.

    "shatto TORP," indeed.