Through their actions in recent months, House Republicans have made clear that they view the debt ceiling standoff as a hostage situation that they can exploit to advance their political agenda—which includes draconian cuts to social programs and massive handouts to the fossil fuel industry.
On Tuesday, just days before the June 1 "X-date," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) came right out and admitted it, telling reporters that "my conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don't feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."
Semafor's Joseph Zeballos-Roig published audio of Gaetz's comments on Twitter:
The Limit, Save, Grow Act is legislation that Republicans passed in a party-line vote last month, staking out their position that the debt ceiling shouldn't be raised unless rich tax cheats are protected and an axe is taken to spending on federal nutrition assistance, Medicaid, affordable housing, childcare, and other key programs.
The House GOP, officially led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) but heavily influenced by the far-right Freedom Caucus, has held to that position, threatening to force a debt default and unleash global economic chaos unless their demands are met.
Gaetz, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, suggested Tuesday that the deal McCarthy struck with his far-right flank to secure the speakership—specifically the rule allowing just one lawmaker to call a vote to unseat the speaker—has kept the Republican leader committed to debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"I believe the one-person motion to vacate has given us the best version of Speaker McCarthy and I think he's doing a good job," Gaetz said Tuesday.
Democratic lawmakers and progressive watchdog groups saw Gaetz's remarks as a frank acknowledgment of what they've said since the start of the debt ceiling standoff.
"A key player in the extreme MAGA House majority now admits what anyone paying attention has suspected all along: Congress Republicans consider the U.S. economy and millions of jobs a 'hostage' while making unreasonable austerity demands that especially hurt low-income veterans and seniors," said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Accountable.US. "Anyone who doubts the looming default crisis and recession is not entirely manufactured by the MAGA majority need only give the fringe Freedom Caucus a call and hear it from the horse's mouth."
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, wrote on Twitter that "Matt Gaetz just admitted Republicans are holding the U.S. economy hostage."
"The pro-default extremists in the GOP are willing to risk economic calamity to force their cruel cuts on American families," Boyle wrote. "House Democrats will not let that happen."
Boyle is leading a longshot procedural effort known as a discharge petition to force a vote on a debt ceiling increase as the Republican leadership remains committed to pursuing deep spending cuts that Democrats in the House and Senate have dismissed as nonstarters.
Not a single House Republican has signed the discharge petition, and two Democrats—Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Ed Case of Hawaii—have yet to sign.
With negotiations between the White House and Republicans at a standstill, a growing number of congressional lawmakers—including prominent progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—are imploring President Joe Biden to use his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a default, an option the president has thus far resisted.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has said the 14th Amendment "should be on the table," pointed to Gaetz's comments Tuesday as further confirmation that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith.
"I want to be clear about what the Republican Party is taking hostage. It is not Democrats. It is the entire U.S. economy," Ocasio-Cortez toldCNN late Tuesday. "It is extreme, and it is not acceptable."
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) added on Twitter that Gaetz and the GOP "are playing a dangerous game and, like every hostage situation, someone is likely going to be hurt."
"We have to rescue the American people," she wrote.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) as a Republican.