Opinion | Republicans are picking a debt-limit fight at their own peril

Comment on this storyCommentMost Americans think the economy is in bad shape, and 6 in 10 blame President Biden. Things could soon get worse: Economists believe there is a 70 percent likelihood of a recession this year — more than double the share from six months earlier, a Bloomberg survey in December found. Given all this, House Republicans should ask themselves: Why on earth Would they do anything that could hurt the economy — and give Biden the pretext to shift blame for his economic fiascoes to them? That’s exactly what will happen if Republicans force a debt limit fight with the president. If the United States reaches the brink of insolvency, myriad problems could follow: The stock market could plummet, interest rates could skyrocket, our national credit rating could be downgraded, millions of jobs could be lost and inflation could climb even further. And Republicans would assume ownership of the economic debacle. Instead of the “Putin Price Hike,” as Biden has tried to explain gasoline increases, Biden will begin touting the “MAGA Price Hike” — wrapping the poor economy around House Republicans’ necks. Why would the GOP hand Biden that kind of opening? Catherine Rampell: Everything you believe about the debt ceiling is wrong. Here’s why. Note also that the history of presidential elections after debt ceiling fights has not been good for Republicans. In 1995, after Republicans took control of the House with a much larger majority than they have today, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga. ) threatened not to raise the debt limit unless President Bill Clinton agreed to $245 billion in tax cuts, restrictions on new Medicare and Medicaid spending, and a balanced budget within seven years. Republicans didn’t get most of their demands, and they paid for their brinkmanship the following year, when Clinton won re-election in a 379-159 electoral college landslide. Follow Marc A. Thiessen’s opinions Follow In 2011, Republicans again picked a fight over the debt ceiling . This time, it was the Democrats who flinched. President Barack Obama agreed to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which used a blunt instrument—sequestration—to mandate automatic across-the-board spending cuts if Republicans and Democrats could not agree on targeted reductions. They did not, with the result that Obama’s discretionary spending was restrained—but at the cost of massive defense cuts that have hurt our ability to compete with and deter a rising Communist China. In the end, Obama had the last laugh. He won reelection the next year in another electoral college landslide, 332-206. See a pattern? If Republicans want to all but guarantee a second Biden term, picking a debt ceiling fight is a great way to do it. Such a fight does not make sense politically in other ways. It would unite Democrats while dividing Republicans, pitting the austerity wing of the GOP caucus against the defense hawks who oppose any efforts to cut military budgets at a time when China and Russia have locked arms to wage a new Cold War against the West. there is no constituency for austerity in today’s GOP. This is no longer the party of Paul Ryan. In 2016, Donald Trump brought in new working-class voters who like their entitlements and federal largesse. He campaigned by attacking Republicans for wanting to cut Social Security or Medicare. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has stated there will be no cuts to Medicare and Social Security. So, entitlement programs — the big driver of federal out-of-control spending — are off the table. That leaves only discretionary spending. And two of the biggest increases in discretionary spending, Biden’s catastrophic “American Rescue Plan” and the “Inflation Reduction Act” — which does just the opposite — are likely off the table. Democrats are not going to let Republicans, who control only the House, repeal the crown jewels of Biden’s legislative agenda. Catherine Rampell: Republicans pledge to balance the budget. But they have no idea how. If Republicans want to roll back Biden’s spending spree, throwing the country into a debt crisis is not the way to do it. Instead, they should do what Democrats did to get the spending passed in the first place: Win. Go out and convince voters to give the GOP control of the Senate, the White House and a bigger House majority. Then they can claw back Biden’s profligate spending. Putting the country on the brink of insolvency would have the opposite effect at the polls — making those GOP electoral victories less likely. I used to believe in using the debt ceiling as leverage, but history is clear: Voters punish the party that plays chicken with the economy. In 1995 and 2011, after delivering midterm shellackings to Democratic presidents, Republicans could at least argue that they had a mandate from voters to leverage the debt ceiling. But after an overwhelming showing in the 2022 midterms, Republicans have no such mandate today. By nominating extremists, they alienated swing voters, who gave Democrats control of the Senate and Republicans an unexpectedly small House majority. Now, instead of learning their lesson, Republicans are picking a debt limit fight — one that is poised to let Biden shift responsibility for his disastrous economic policies against the GOP. That could cost them their narrow House majority — and, if history is any guide, the presidency. Opinions on the debt ceiling View 3 more stories

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