Republicans demand the debt ceiling be raised — and promise to block Democratic attempts to do so

Republicans demand the debt ceiling be raised — and promise to block Democratic attempts to do so
Mitch McConnell/Shutterstock

The nation is now used to seeing political standoffs whenever the time again comes to raise the now-infamous "debt ceiling." The nation is also generally aware of the dynamic that plays out each time the United States needs to raise the artificially set debt cap in order to keep paying the bills that Congress itself ordered the nation to pay: During times of Republican governance, Republicans hand out tax cuts to whoever the steady rotation of lobbyists in their offices tell them to, draining federal coffers. During times of Democratic governance, Republicans scream loudly about the money being spent on Actual Things, proclaim themselves outraged at federal deficits, and vow that they will absolutely not be a part of this fine mess that their yesterday selves got us into.

I'm not sure there's been any past Republican effort as lazily nihilistic as the one that's currently forming, however. The seemingly unanimous take of Senate Republicans, as guided by (of course) Sen. Mitch McConnell, is that the debt ceiling of course needs to be raised as rote responsibility of government—and that Republicans will absolutely block attempts all attempts to do so so that Democrats have to do it without them.

It's not a "we must reduce the debt" stance. It's not an attempt to play chicken with the nation's credit rating or an attempt to shut down government this time around. The Republican position this time is that while this paperwork may be a necessary part of government, it's better for Republicans to not do that governing so they're just ... not going to.

On Tuesday, Sen. McConnell turtled to reporters that Senate Republicans were "united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling." Party cranks had previously promised to filibuster any legislation raising the ceiling, thus cutting off both the notion that the ceiling could be raised with Republican votes and the ability of Senate Democrats to even bring such a bill for a vote.

What do the still-paycheck-collecting Republicans want Democrats to do instead? They want Democrats to ram a new debt ceiling number through using reconciliation rules, the process that Republicans have been calling autocratic and democracy-ending in any other context. It's all a game to them, nobody's pretending it's anything different, and it's all laced with the same propaganda claims that Republicanism is now reliant on.

Sen. Ted Cruz was blunt when declaring the Republican position last August: Democrats "have 100 percent control and ability to raise the debt ceiling on reconciliation. And the only reason they wouldn't do so is to play political games."

Republicans don't intend to use their position to negotiate anything. They just don't wanna do it so they're not going to. Instead, their plan is to make Democrats do all the governing, then run midterm campaigns blasting Democrats for doing it. CNN reports that McConnell's intent is to make Democrats "own" a newly raised debt ceiling by forcing them do it through unconventional means, after all but a handful of Republican senators wrote a letter declaring both that the nation "should not default on our debts under any circumstances" and that if "Democrats threaten a default" it will be their fault for not ramming it through despite Republican attempts to block it.

See, I worry here that I'm not fully conveying the full asininity of the Senate Republican position. They're in broad agreement that the nation can't default on its debts, they're in broad agreement that therefore the debt ceiling should be raised as it has been every other time it has come up, and they're in broad agreement that they're going to sit in a corner screaming song lyrics and pressure cooker recipes while everybody else gets on that. As legislators, they don't want to do this bit of government so they're just not gonna, la la la, the rest of you are suckers for caring.

O … kay?

Oh, they still get their paychecks either way, of course. You can spend 20 years in the Senate doing nothing but carving swear words into your desk and you'll still get the same paycheck. Keeping the government running is not technically part of the job, it's just a little bonus you might give your constituents if you feel the alternative would result on a local run on feathers and roofing tar.

In any event, because none of this would be complete without Republican lawmakers simply lying their asses off about even the most basic functions of government, Republicans do intend to pretend that the debt ceiling is tied to new Democratic spending and not past congressional edicts. CNN gives us the immediate example of Sen. Joni Ernst blubbering that with new Democratic budget proposals this new hit on the debt ceiling is "their own making." Yet again, for the people in the cheap seats, this ain't so. The debt ceiling is governed by spending authorized by Congress in the past. It is a result of the laws already written, apportioning funds in the way the Paul Ryans of the past demanded during White House Rose Garden celebrations proudly celebrating new deficit spending. Sen. Joni Ernst is just lying on this one, as is the party's current style.

So far, all of this looks like it will be turning out extremely Stupid, with nobody from either party willing to do anything more than the usual routine of scheduling votes, blocking votes, holding press conferences about the votes, and generally puttering around with as many time-wasting antics as each individual senator can muster energy for. It does look like Democratic leaders intend to force a Senate vote on the debt ceiling, Republicans intend to filibuster it, we will gradually inch toward the crisis of government not being able to pay its bills, and at the last minute or shortly thereafter Democrats will construct some mechanism for getting it done despite Sens. Deskcarver and Flamepants feigning outrage.

What should be done, since Republicans now have evolved into the position that the debt ceiling is from now on only going to be raised during times when future voters boot just enough Republican senators to allow it to happen, is a full wipe of the very premise of a "debt ceiling." It is a construct. It is a fork-in-electrical-socket of the House and Senate's own making, a way for preening elected officials to blackmail the rest of the country by threatening to push us into it if just one more child gets one more slice of government cheese than the richest bastards of the country deem appropriate.

So then, Democrats, just erase it. Don't just boost the cap to whatever number will put us in this same position 10 or so months from now; get rid of it. Set it to a billion trillion quadrillion dollars and be done with it. That also can be done in reconciliation, since Republicans are demanding the Democrats use reconciliation to address it, and will defuse this particular bomb so that Ted Freaking Cruz and friends cannot blackmail government every damn year in order to boost his fundraising numbers.

The sheer amount of new debt America has piled on as a result of having to cope with shutdowns and near-shutdowns can't be small, either. It turns out governance, like health care, is a lot cheaper when you don't wait for every last bump and nick to turn into a full-blown emergency before dealing with it.

End this farce. Republicans cannot govern, Republicans don't want anyone else to govern, Republicans continue to flip random levers of government in the hope that the damage done will be something non-Republicans cannot easily fix. There is Too Much Shit these days for this little comedy routine to still be a core part of the national lineup. We need this time for debating more important things, like seawalls and pandemics and an explanation as to how the most incompetent White House in a century managed to come so very close to orchestrating a coup.

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