GOP Releases Government, Takes U.S. Economy Hostage Again
That was quick. Just two days after he joined House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in lashing out against right-wing extremists who threatened to trigger another government shutdown by blocking his compromise budget, Rep. Paul Ryan on Sunday promised to support the Tea Party's other favorite act of national economic blackmail. Despite the fact that both Ryan and Boehner have admitted "we have no immediate debt crisis" and that "you can't not raise the debt limit" because that "would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy," Ryan on Sunday threatened to do just that.
If John Boehner by Thursday was "mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore" from the Tea Party, as the Washington Post's resident conventional wisdom regurgitator Chris Cillizza claimed, the Speaker got over his rage pretty quickly. As House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told Fox News on Sunday:
"We as a caucus -- along with our Senate counterparts -- are going to meet and discuss what it is we're going to want out of the debt limit. We don't want nothing out of this debt limit. We're going to decide what it is we're going to accomplish out of this debt limit fight."
That is an ironic position for Ryan to take. As it turns out, nothing is exactly what Boehner, Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership team demanded when they gave President George W. Bush a "clean" debt ceiling bill in 2004.
With his Treasury-draining tax cuts, two wars, TARP and the unfunded Medicare prescription drug plan, Bush needed to raise the nation's borrowing authority seven times as nearly doubled the national debt. And the GOP brain trust in Congress of Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor voted for all of it.
Nevertheless, Capitol Hill Republicans are once again threatening to hold the debt ceiling hostage. Throughout 2013, their demands have changed, with the ransom for raising the debt limit being variously set at the repeal of Obamacare, adoption of the Ryan House GOP budget, implementing tax reform, green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline, curbing new federal regulations and even enacting draconian new abortion restrictions.
All the while, as I documented earlier this year, the United States faces no debt crisis in either the near or medium term. (Paul Krugman looked at the charts and went a step further, concluding "It's not even a picture of a crisis.")
After slashing $2.5 trillion from the next decade's red ink in just the past two years, the U.S. national debt as a percentage of the American economy has stabilized. It is worth noting that only about a quarter of the deficit reduction comes from new revenues. (If all of the Bush tax cuts had been allowed to expire as part of January's fiscal cliff deal, U.S. debt would plummet from around 70 to about 50 percent of GDP.) May's 2013 deficit projection was now $642 billion, half the level Barack Obama faced on the day he first took the oath of office in 2009. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) explained just last month, for the next decade U.S. national debt will remain at sustainable, stable levels.
That was the nutshell summary from October. Since then, the picture has only improved as tax revenues have grown faster than expected even as the Ryan-Murray budget plan locks in historically non-defense discretionary spending for the next two years. With American economic recovery still fragile, now is no time to threaten to block a once-routine debt ceiling hike and trigger a cataclysmic U.S. default.
Of course, it's never the time to hold the debt ceiling hostage. But once again, Paul Ryan and his Republican allies will, if only because they can.