Boehner acknowledges risk

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.