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COMMENTARY: GOP threatens to tank economy to get its way

by St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board (TNS) | January 23, 2023 at 3:00 a.m.


Like the hockey-masked villain in some cheesy horror flick, the GOP's debt ceiling caucus just keeps coming back. Once again, the party's more radical members are threatening to hold America's full faith and credit hostage by refusing to raise the nation's debt limit. The Treasury hit that $31.4 trillion limit Thursday, meaning it will have to be raised -- as it routinely has been over the years, under both parties, to cover expenses incurred by both parties.

As the debate unfolds in coming weeks, Republicans will try to present their refusal as a principled stand for fiscal responsibility. It's not. It is a deliberate threat to America's fiscal stability in hopes of getting presidential concessions on unrelated issues. It's political terrorism, plain and simple.

The debt ceiling is the statutory limit on what the U.S. can borrow to cover past expenditures. That last part is crucial to remember as Republicans begin sowing misinformation about what they're doing when they refuse to approve the periodic raises necessary in the debt limit. It is not refusal to spend but rather refusal to cover spending already authorized by Congress (including, generally, the same Republicans now declining to pay what's owed).

The best analogy is refusing to pay a credit card bill. When individuals do that, their credit rating drops and they end up having to pay more interest. If America ever defaulted on its debts, the same thing would happen -- except, the effects would be devastating. There would be convulsions in the national and global economy.

Republicans like Missouri Rep. Jason Smith -- the newly seated House Ways and Means chairman, who calls the debt ceiling threat a legitimate "tool" in political negotiations -- should recall that the last time their party went to the brink like this, it backfired politically and added to the very deficit they now, suddenly, claim to abhor. The mere threat of it, in 2011, caused the first credit downgrade in the U.S. government's history and cost the taxpayers billions of dollars in added interest. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Yet Republicans are now, again, demanding spending cuts to social programs before they'll allow America to pay its existing bills. This is the same GOP that inflated the deficit by $1.8 trillion with its 2017 tax cuts to the rich -- back when a Republican was president and the party couldn't have cared less about debt. Now they want the poor and the elderly to cover the bill. And they're threatening to tank America's economy if they don't get their way.

Cutting spending isn't in itself a bad idea, but the time to debate it is when the spending is being approved, not when the bill comes due. The White House is refusing -- as it should -- to negotiate with this fiscal gun to its head. Negotiating with terrorists is never wise.


Print Headline: COMMENTARY: GOP threatens to tank economy to get its way

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