Creating a new strategic standard

As the Republican hostage strategy regarding the debt ceiling becomes more explicit, Jon Chait asks the right to consider an analogy.

Let me put it this way to conservatives. Suppose we had a Republican president and a Democratic House. And suppose Democrats decided they would block any debt ceiling increase unless the president agreed to a credible plan to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Would you object to such a demand?

The hack Republican answer is that spending cuts and the debt ceiling are linked, because the debt ceiling is Obama’s fault. But of course the debt ceiling has to get raised under every president, and it would have to be raised even if Obama signed the Paul Ryan budget. The debt ceiling has nothing to do with any particular policy choices — it’s just a routine vote that used to be an opportunity for the minority party to embarrass the president, which Republicans are turning into a hostage opportunity.

Exactly. There have been a few instances over the years in which Congress has given various administrations some heartburn over the debt ceiling. There’s a reason Reagan declared in 1983, “The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar.” Reagan wasn’t just pontificating at the time; he was urging Congress not to screw around.

But we’ve never seen anything quite like the GOP’s antics of 2011, and it’s probably safe to assume a new strategic standard is being set before our eyes. Unless lawmakers agree to change the debt-limit law itself — a highly unlikely scenario that hasn’t even been floated as a possibility — Republicans have now effectively created a new rule that says parties can and should expect enormous ransoms in order to do their duty and protect the full faith and credit of the United States.

The debt ceiling is now a powerful bargaining chip. The Treasury, the Fed, economists, Wall Street, and business leaders all pleaded with GOP leaders not to make it one, but Republicans ignored them.

The next time there’s a Republican president and Democrats control either chamber of Congress, the Dems’ wish list need not be modest. Thanks to the new GOP model, any policy can be tied to a debt-ceiling fight, and no list of demands can be deemed excessive.