Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual

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Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Dave Camp, Tom Graves
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan talks briefly to reporters during a meeting of House Republican conferees at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Never before has a minority party linked controversial legislative demands with a threat to shut down the government or imperil the global economy. But House Republicans would have you believe otherwise.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this morning, Rep. Paul Ryan writes that president Obama “says he ‘will not negotiate’ on the debt ceiling. He claims that such negotiations would be unprecedented. But many presidents have negotiated on the debt ceiling—including him. ”

Ryan was referring to a speech given in September before the Business Roundtable — an association of CEOs of large US companies — in which the president said, “You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party, and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt.”

Ryan continued: “He’s refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That’s a shame — because this doesn’t have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough.”

But that’s spin: Negotiating would set a dangerous precedent, because Obama’s right that this time really is different. Here are three reasons why.

1. Republicans are testing a new strategy of refusing to negotiate until crisis point

Republican lawmakers such as Ryan push the narrative that Democrats and the president won’t negotiate — but in fact, as Alex Seitz-Wald writes for the National Journal, Democrats requested a conference on the budget with Republicans 19 times between April and October. Republicans blocked all 19 requests. Now that the government is in crisis, Republicans say they want to negotiate, hoping that Democrats feel backed into a corner. But Democrats know that if they accept that paradigm, they’ll be right back in that corner in a few month’s time.

2. The debt ceiling is becoming a more common, and more dangerous, negotiating tool

John Boehner recently claimed that linking the budget to the debt ceiling (and thereby risking default if budget negotiations get ugly) is routine. This, in fact, is not true, writes Richard Kogan, a former Senior Adviser at the Office of Management and Budget. Boehner cited seven debt ceiling increases from Reagan through Clinton tied to budget measures — but, in fact, since Reagan was inaugurated, Congress has rasied the debt ceiling 45 times.

Ryan and others also claim that holding the debt ceiling hostage is something both parties do. Slate’s Dave Weigel runs through why the handful of times Democrats did not quickly give the president a debt limit increase have few parallels to today — in every case, a clean debt ceiling increase got through before the country got close to the impasse we’re at now. Weigel writes:

Raising the debt limit has always been unpopular, and tough to explain to voters. A few times, Democrats balked at raising it for a few days to make a point, then caved in. Many more times, they’ve just voted for the damn thing. John Boehner’s Republicans have only ever agreed to raise the debt limit if they won major policy concessions from the president. Both parties don’t do it. One party does it.

3. Some are actually willing to default

Lastly, this time is different because, for the first time in history, a large contingent of the minority party, The New York Times reports today, “isn’t buying the apocalyptic warnings that a default on United States government debt would lead to a global economic cataclysm.”

“I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke,” Ted Yoho (R-FL) told The Washington Post, arguing for default. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”

The Post’s Ezra Klein called this kind of thinking “terrifying,” writing:

Analogies between the finances of families and government are typically pretty flawed. But there’s one worth drawing here: That moment when a family realizes it’s broke and stops paying their mortgage, credit card bill, etc? It’s not a good moment for them. It’s a moment that wrecks their credit score and makes it harder for them to be “not-broke” ever again. To try and improve the U.S.’s finances by sharply and permanently increasing its borrowing costs is like trying to prove to your sister that her house is a firetrap by actually setting it on fire. But Yoho and friends are getting plaudits from the cramped, closed information loop they favor.

Yoho and like-minded colleagues brought America to one brink — government shutdown — looked over the edge, and then dove right in. The fact that they are willing to approach another with the intention to leap into it is, truly, unprecedented.

John Light is a writer and journalist sometimes based in New York. He writes a lot about climate policy, both inside and outside of the US. He was a former associate digital producer for Moyers & Company. His work has been supported by grants from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, and has been included in ProPublica's #MuckReads collection. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
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  • strider367

    None of this is business as usual. Can someone answer this? Sen cruz goes on the senate floor for 22 hours to fight the ACA. During his time he talks about green eggs and ham etc. Not once did he state one reason why this law is bad. With a law that is about 2900 pages long. How can he not find one point to argue or justify his opposition?

    As painful as this could be, if you read or hear from the other republican’s. They too do not point out any reason what so ever why this law is so really bad. Why is that, maybe because they don’t want to point out the good points of this law? Which may show that maybe this law isn’t all that bad after all? Just wondering why these people are regressing? What’s next are they going after witches next?

  • Brian Agar

    Every one of the Republicans pictured here is a multimillionaire that is completely out of touch with common poor or middle income folks! Not one of them feels the slightest dent in their wallet or family budget to buy health care for their family!

  • David Jewett

    Combined, all Democrats and the few Republicans that have said they
    would vote to raise the dept limit brings the tally to 215 of the 217
    votes needed, and more than likely at least two of the needed Republican votes will
    be found. The fact that Boehner will not allow a House vote is telling. He says that the votes are just not there, so why bother bringing it to the floor for a vote? Yet, how many times (I’ve lost count) over last couple of years has he brought to the floor a vote to defund the ACA knowing full well that the votes were not there?

  • http://www.facebook.com/RPManke.solar RevPhil Manke

    The fed isn’t going broke! It’s bankrupting itself! Big difference!………… The US has plenty of money for war or subsidies for large corporations. This is about robbing the GP by cutting SS and medical care or robbing the GP thru inflation by raising the debt. This is robbery by inaction, plain and simple!

  • Joseph M Narusiewicz

    Al-Qeada shuts down governments…shutting down the government because one faction of a party doesn’t like a legitimate law should be criminal…if they find that outside groups and donors like the Koch brothers planned any of this as a strategy to block the affordable care act they ought to be prosecuted as terrorists and go to jail….Al-Qeada shuts down governments not caring citizens

  • Joseph M Narusiewicz

    now there finding out all kinds of funding from the Koch brothers was being used in a plan right after the second election to defund Healthcare. Ted Cruz is a shell and this whole assault is orchestrated by big money; it is not a spontaneous expression of the people and they won’t even give the house a up or down vote….it is a JOKE – their sick….it all ties into citizens untitled and unlimited funding by the likes of the Koch Brothers and their ilk

  • http://www.geovibe.com/ Rezn8

    McCain is too busy playing gambling games on his smart phone.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Luboš Motl

    I agree with the GOP folks that it’s essentially business-as-usual and democracy *does* mean that the party in power doesn’t have an absolute power and sometimes it has to negotitate, but I also agree that some things are different this time.

    It’s clearly a duty of the White House to make the U.S. work on the daily basis. It’s normal for the minority party that controls the House to protect its long-term priorities and values and put obstacles in front of the White House to do so. That’s what lawmakers are supposed to do.

    The probability of default has indeed increased – after all, so has the debt itself. The higher debt is one of the key overlooked reasons why it’s legitimate to be tougher. And yes, there are GOP folks for whom a defaulted U.S. would be closer to their idea about the size of the U.S. government than the Big Government promoted by many Democrats.

    This is another reason why the Democrats simply *have* to negotiate, have to pay the ransom, have to postpone sacrifice the Obamacare if needed. Republicans may lose a few million votes but the stakes are really higher this time and the desire to avoid the default is indeed *mainly* a program of the Democrats, and only to a lesser extent, the Republicans.

    At the same moment, I agree with the economists who say that the default isn’t necessary if the debt ceiling is kept. The government would have to reorder the payment priorities. If it failed to pay the U.S. treasuries, it would prove the incompetence or bad intents of the government.

  • medford bob

    right on

  • Michael Barnathan

    The debt is $17 trillion and increasing by $815 billion every year. There are 316 million people in the United States; taxing the top 1% means collecting more from 3.16 million by definition. To pay off $815 billion/year, those 3.16 million people would need to pay $257,911/year of additional tax revenue each. The average income at the top 1% is $394,000/year before 40% comes out in existing taxes, yielding a net of $236,400. So your proposed tax, far from being small, is more than what those in the 99th percentile of income actually earn.

  • JonThomas

    Is anyone else having flashbacks to when president Bartlett was in the West Wing?

    Where’s Josh?

  • http://sulayman.hadithuna.com Sulayman

    We’re going to lose our AAA credit rating, and Republicans are willing to let it happen again just so they can try to (falsely) blame Obama.

  • No special treatment

    Regardless of who started or why, the shut down would be over if the Democrats would agree to remove the special exceptions set in place (after the law was passed) for their BIG Business and elected buddies. Why are Democratic voters supporting their Party just to give special treatment for BIG business and the elected?

  • No Special Treatment

    Regardless of who started or why, the shut down would be over if the Democrats would agree to remove the special exceptions they set in place (after the law was passed) for their BIG Business and elected buddies. Why are Democratic voters in favor of BIG business and elected getting special treatment/exceptions?

  • Norina May

    No this will continue to happen every few months. The republicans should be fined for taking this so far. It is treason.

  • Anonymous

    The waivers will last a year..some until the full implementation of the AHCA in 2014.There were no special favors…but Fox News presents it that way. Congress and their staff must purchase their insurance through the exchange. Republicans threw their staff under the bus giving them no subsidies (whose wages are between $30,000 and $60,000 a year) while allowed for every uninsured person that qualified for this provision.

  • Anonymous

    And now we are concerned…hardly was an eye batted as this continued since the 1940s..increasing the deficit and adding to the war debt. It didn’t help when Republicans slashed taxes under Reagan and G.W. Bush during two waged wars not paid for. Revenue dipped to the lowest in the same amount of time. The recession depleted more of the revenue that was needed. The Republicans desire to pay the debt was take more from those struggling after being robbed by the financial sector….retirement accounts depleted/the devalue of the home and foreclosures, the bleeding of jobs at 500,000 a month during the origin of the recession in 2008. The promise by the Republicans to pass legislation to improve employment a lie as they set out to eliminate workers rights to collective bargaining in the work force and form unions. I doubt your numbers as the deficit has been cut in half from $1.2 trillion when President Obama..now down to around $650 billion…And I have serious doubts the GOTP is interested in reducing spending unless it is thrust upon the working class. Note the silence about the bloated Department of Defense or the elimination of tax loopholes for the corporations and moneyed elite…as the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

  • Anonymous

    But they do not have sufficient revenue,,,that is the point..It was Congress that racked up the bills over decades and are now refusing to pay them. They are not going away and some have to be paid…leaving very little money to run the government..what is hypocritical is carrying on about vet benefits when it was the Tea Party that refused to keep government opened…of course this won’t stop them blaming the President that has to abide by what Congress dictates when it comes to paying the bills…so they will continue to pass little pieces of appropriation bills to support their causes and the rest of the country be damned. They will carry on about Benghazi ad nauseum or entitlement programs that added nothing to the debt. There goal is to raise funds with their constant campaigning hoping the U.S. citizen won’t feel the pain (seniors now worried if they will receive there SS benefit check). They cannot win any other way. Their base is decreasing as the country becomes more diverse ..Voter suppression and discrediting the President and his party their only hope to win, while they dismiss the majority…over five million more that voted for President Obama as if our vote doesn’t count.

  • Kyle Kennedy

    Might want to actually look up the numbers before spouting nonsense. The average annual income of the top 1 percent of the population is $717,000, compared to the average income of the rest of the population, which is around $51,000. The top 1% of THAT 1% averages $27 MILLION.

  • Anonymous

    Obama has to stand firm and resist any and all intimidation. The ACA is here to stay, no gimmicks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If he caves in, he’s a coward (or sellout to private interests) with NO legacy! No legacy. We liberal Democrats will not forgive him. History books, virtual or not, will not be kind.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how the proponents of lets default and see how it works would respond to a requirement that if they are wrong they forfeit their entire net worth to reimbursing the nation for their bad judgement.

  • Anonymous

    Congress does have to use the exchanges compliments of Senator Grassley. They did pass law so that the federal govt would continue to subdidize premiums. By the by, since they are all federal employees and are currently covered under federal employee insurance. Requiring them to give their employer insurance up was a Republican stunt. I agree they should not have given the small set of employers off the hook forgetting themselves on board – bunch of whining brats.

  • Matt

    If he caves on anything, we’re through as a nation to be proud of. Close the doors, break the key in the lock, and let’s all devolve to roving motorcycle gangs fighting for fuel. If he caves once, we’re all done. This will become business as usual.

  • aud

    Obabacare is law. Doesn’t a change in in the law have to originate in the House and follow procedure? My Republican friends seem to think the Democrats just wave
    a wand. But then it’s been long time since they’ve spoken to me. Am I mistaken?

  • Focus on the bigger issue

    How about telling the President to stop spending more than the country put as the limit and then he wouldn’t be in this position?

  • Sounds like a dictatorship

    That’s right he should be a dictator and demand that Congress gives him exactly what he wants and let him spend more the the know debt limit. They should increase that debt limit without question or rebuttal or he will ensure the average citizen feels the pain….

  • Keeping it real

    Yeah, he shouldn’t cave on giving big business exemptions that he won’t allow to the average citizen. He shouldn’t cave on the special consideration to Congress.. Well, maybe he should cave to the unions – they are another big donation / voting block. But he must ensure he doesn’t cave on any special exceptions for the average citizen.

  • Doug

    I’m sorry. What are you saying? That the Congress should tell the President to stop spending what they told him he must spend?

  • Doug

    The core of the ACA is that insurance companies are required to cover everyone regardless of how sick they are. The only way this can work is if everyone buys insurance, regardless of how healthy they are. Hence the “individual mandate”. These two things are inseperable. The only thing the individual mandade has in common with the mandate that businesses with >50 employees provide insurance is the word “mandate”.

  • Chris Jonsson

    Congress passes the national budget, not the president. If the president could sign something and make the debt go away don’t you think he would have done it by now?

  • Robin Berss Ross

    Really? How come the debt ceiling was raised more than twice as much as any other president by : YOUR PRECIOUS RONALD REAGAN then. Give me a break THIS President has raise the debt ceiling twice, thats 2 times for the learning impaired.

  • Lawrence Bourne

    First, the deficit has been falling every year since 2009. That is a fact conservative love to over look. Second, the debt limit is about paying for debt already approved by Congress; not about new expenditures. Catch up to reality if you’re going to pollute boards.

  • Lawrence Bourne

    For the sake of argument, even if it passed the Senate- which it couldn’t, the President will not sign the law. It is an exercise in futility.

    Of course, all of this completely ignores the GOP is the MINORITY PARTY of government. They are not the ones who call the final shots.


  • Erik Lassiter

    Because that “exemption” for big business isn’t about special treatments for business its because there’s problems with crafting the rules to operationalize those requirements. The rules were much more complicated than expected and are taking longer to iron out the kinks. Seeing as how most companies with more than 50 employees already provide health care the companies who don’t are in the vast minority. It’s only something like 300,000 individuals being affected by postponing the business implementation for a year, something like .02% of the population.

    You really think that’s something to make a stink about?

  • Erik Lassiter

    Take your advice. Are you aware that the House changed the procedural rules on Sept 30 to disallow the Democrats to bring the Senate’s bill up for a vote? Now, only Eric Cantor or his appointee can bring that bill forward for a vote. If the Democrats could bring a clean vote in the House it would pass.

    Take your own advice and study government more.

  • nidur

    That forgotten president, I think his name was George W., fought two wars while lowering taxes. By the time he left he took a good economy and almost brought on a new Great Depression. He started the bailouts, because even he saw that we were going to go down like the Titanic. But most people have forgotten about him. They think the last rep president was Reagan. The debt limit is for money already spent–by Congress! It is like buying a car and then not paying for it. But worse than that, our money only has value because we don’t default. Our bonds are absolutely safe–until now! If interest rates go up and the financial markets drop, it will cost much more in the long run than trying to cut more out of the budget. The prestige of the US in the world is at stake. It is very frightening to think what could happen. A country is not like a household. Besides households have debt. A Mortgage, car payment, credit cards are only some examples.

  • AKLady

    Put the terrorists where they belong — in jail.

  • AKLady

    Well, maybe because in this country it is Congress who does the spending? How about you get an education?

  • AKLady

    How about you take a civics class?

  • David

    So what you are saying is that placing the entire budget on hold to go back and rehash a law that’s already passed is a-ok.

  • AKLady

    Maybe you should tell us exactly what exemptions and special considerations you are talking about?
    Might help if you actually read the law. I know, that would be too much like work, especially with your red state education.

  • AKLady

    Well, it could be because there are no special exemptions for big business?

  • AKLady

    There is no waiver for BIG business. There is a waiver for SMALL businesses.

  • AKLady

    There are two wars to pay for. Those who profited from those wars should pay the bills. It is time to go back to the income tax rates which were in place to pay for WW II.
    If you play, you must pay.

  • Anonymous

    How old are you? A 10 year old knows more about this than you.

  • Anonymous

    Educate yourself before spewing b.s..

  • Anonymous

    Are you just combining off your meds child?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have a clue as what you just said.

  • Anonymous

    There’s that right wing spin again. Congres spent the money, we borrowed it and we want to pay off some of it. Can’t do that unless we increase the debt limit. I guess some can’t read or wont’ read. We keep typing that and they keep saying the same wrong thing.

  • Anonymous

    To make everyone equal, perhaps the exemptions for businesses should be cancelled. Then we would all be equal. Seems to me that businesses couldn’t quite get their head around the fact they would have to insure folks, said we can’t do that and so they got a special exemption. They had plenty of time, they just didn’t want to do it.

  • Anonymous

    So a business does not have their act together enough to know how to insure their employees. A business can get done about anything they decide is in their interest to do.

  • Anonymous

    Come on get it right. “our goverment is run” Please

  • Matt

    Yes, he should be a total dictator, a totalitarian tyrant, and tell Congress to… do their jobs… damn, wait…

  • julie collura

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Jd-iaYLO1A Only way the Budget Bill can come up is via Eric Cantor or his designee? What????

  • M Gjerdrum

    The tea party was funded by Dick Army, they are the mindless puppets of the greedy who see billions can be made by the privatization of the US government………look at this morning’s stock market, it is skyrocketing. They see their own profits, nothing else. Following the model of Detroit, the greedy go in, grab everything of value for pennies on the dollar, and leave the city broken with nothing to rebuild upon. This model is being used all over the US, as more cities go bankrupt……. They went into Detroit, fired all the city employees, gutted any pensions they might have had, and took everything…..now they intend the same for the federal government.
    They don’t care millions could lose their jobs, homes, pensions and any chance of decent livelihoods, it is all about enriching the few at the cost of everyone else.
    It is both parties, both serve the same greedy, self-serving interests of their owners, not the people.
    All of them need to be fired, locked out of their offices, and sent home without pay. A provisional government could be set up until new elections could be held. These clowns are working against, not for the American nation. Of course, this won’t happen because Americans are too dumbed down by corporate controlled news to move out of their chairs………

  • M Gjerdrum

    This is no longer a nation of law……….