‘A gamble where you bet your country’s good name’

I can’t help but think the vast majority of the public just doesn’t fully appreciate what’s transpiring here.

We’re dealing, after all, with fairly obscure legal mechanisms. Most Americans don’t know what the federal debt ceiling is, and in fairness, they’ve never had to. It’s a law that was approved more than eight decades ago, and hasn’t been particularly controversial or even relevant since. Policymakers have always realized they have an obligation — legal, economic, moral, and otherwise — to do the right thing.

The United States is like the Lannisters: we always pay our debts. And in the case of the debt ceiling, we’re talking about money we’ve already spent — this is the equivalent of getting a credit card bill for charges we’ve already made. The entirety of the Republican Party — in the House, in the Senate, among its presidential candidates — has said it might pay the bill, but only if Democrats agree to take trillions of dollars out of a fragile economy.

And if Democrats don’t do enough to make Republicans happy, GOP officials will simply refuse to do their duty. They know the consequences would be severe for the nation and the world. They apparently don’t care.

Americans almost certainly can’t appreciate the extent to which they’ve made a tragic mistake. Voters perceived the Republican Party has a conservative governing party, capable of responsible center-right governance, and rewarded the GOP handsomely in 2010. What voters probably didn’t understand are the similarities between today’s Republican Party and a not-terribly-bright organized-crime family, run entirely by petulant children.

The Economist, a conservative publication, had a fascinating editorial this week, explaining that Republicans are creating a crisis, on purpose, for no reason. The United States has a manageable debt, low interest rates, low inflation, and the ability to borrow on the cheap. But because right-wing extremists are chiseling away at our political system, we’re quickly approaching a point of no return.

The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.

This newspaper has a strong dislike of big government; we have long argued that the main way to right America’s finances is through spending cuts. But you cannot get there without any tax rises. In Britain, for instance, the coalition government aims to tame its deficit with a 3:1 ratio of cuts to hikes. America’s tax take is at its lowest level for decades: even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to do so.

And the closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look…. Both parties have in recent months been guilty of fiscal recklessness. Right now, though, the blame falls clearly on the Republicans.

The Economist added that this is “a gamble where you bet your country’s good name.”

I suspect there are many saying, “We get it; they’re reckless.” But that’s not enough — no one given this much power is supposed to be this reckless. Republicans gained power because voters were frustrated with high unemployment, and yet GOP leaders are threatening to deliberately create a crisis that would make unemployment much worse. And the breaking point is very soon.

All of this could go away in a heartbeat. Republicans could do, today, exactly what they did repeatedly during the Bush years: simply vote to raise the debt ceiling in a clean bill and move on. The entire process could take literally a few minutes.

But GOP officials don’t want to. They want to play a game in which the entire world could lose.

How is this not the biggest political scandal in modern American history? How is it that those who claim the high ground on patriotism could put our financial well being on the line, on purpose, when they don’t have to?