Republican Party lawmakers during Joe Biden's State of the Union

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) (2nd L), Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX) and fellow Republicans react as President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. The speech marks Biden's first address to the new Republican-controlled House.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Help Wanted: Five Rational Republicans Willing to Save the US Economy

The immediate task is simple: Raise the nation's debt limit and thereby avert a U.S. recession and worldwide economic disaster.

Five is a magic number. A mere five Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives must step up—and soon.

They must join all House Democrats to prevent a massive, self-inflicted national wound. They must place their country above a nihilistic, anti-democratic—with a small “d”—GOP that obfuscates and excuses the January 6 insurrection as a “peaceful protest.” They must weather the wrath of a MAGA-dominated Republican party.

And so far, they are missing in action.

The immediate task is simple: Raise the nation’s debt limit and thereby avert a U.S. recession and worldwide economic disaster.

Lies and Hypocrisy Meet a Constitutional Mandate

Incorrectly characterizing America’s debt ceiling, congressional Republicans suggest that it’s analogous to an individual’s credit card: “You hit the limit and can’t spend anymore.”

"The best way to defeat any Democrat in 2024 is to kill the economy. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling might do the trick."

But the nation’s debt limit has nothing to do with future spending. Raising the ceiling merely allows the federal government to pay debts it has already incurred for expenditures that Congress previously approved.

The U.S. Constitution has already spoken on this issue: “The validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.”

Even so, if Republican extremists who control House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) prevail, sometime this summer the U.S. Treasury will exhaust the extraordinary measures now underway to avert defaulting on that debt. The nation and the world could nosedive into an economic recession or worse.

In Part, It’s About 2024

Democrats and Republicans raised the ceiling three times under President Donald Trump as he increased the national debt by $7 trillion. So what new urgency prompts the current GOP trek toward economic apocalypse?

A partial answer is that President Joe Biden is a Democrat. The best case for any Democratic victory in 2024 is the economy. It has come roaring back on his watch: More jobs created in the first two years than any president in history, bipartisan support for historic infrastructure investment and climate action, easing inflation, falling gas prices, and more. The best way to defeat any Democrat in 2024 is to kill the economy. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling might do the trick.

The nation’s debt limit has nothing to do with future spending. Raising the ceiling merely allows the federal government to pay debts it has already incurred for expenditures that Congress previously approved.

America has been down this road. Before the midterm elections in 2010 ushered in the first GOP Tea Party candidates, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared that making President Barack Obama a one-term president was “the single most important thing we want to achieve.” Republicans then won control of the House.

A year later, McConnell played the debt-ceiling card. Only 72 hours before a U.S. default in 2011, McConnell agreed to raise the limit in return for cuts in future government spending. Along the way, he also killed Obama’s proposal for tax increases on the wealthy as an alternative method of balancing future budgets.

But in the weeks leading up to that 11th-hour resolution, uncertainty surrounding the negotiations roiled financial markets. Stocks plummeted and didn’t recover for months. Volatility spiked; interest rates increased; S&P downgraded the nation’s debt rating; and the country’s borrowing costs went up by $1.3 billion.

President Obama still won a second term. And this time around, even McConnell sees the folly of threatening a U.S. government default.

“In the end, I think the important thing to remember is that America must never default on its debt. It never has, and it never will,” McConnell said last month. “We’ll end up in some kind of negotiation with the administration over what the circumstances or conditions under which the debt ceiling [will] be raised.”

McConnell assumes that reasonable minds will prevail. But today’s House Republicans make that a dangerous assumption.

Thelma & Louise Go To Washington

The fact that President Biden is a Democrat is not the only reason for Republican obstruction. After all, following the 2011 debacle, Republicans approved additional debt limit increases during the Obama administration with far less drama. But this time really is different.

The embarrassing spectacle of McCarthy’s election as Speaker makes clear that a few far-right extremists now control him and the GOP’s House majority. Economic ruin doesn’t scare them. At their core, they are nihilists. Destruction is in their DNA.

Negotiate, McConnell says. How can anyone negotiate with hostage takers who refuse to say what they want? Beyond unspecified cuts to future spending, the GOP won’t even list its demands. But a few “emerging GOP ideas” have appeared.

During his State of the Union speech, President Biden noted correctly that some Republicans in Congress had proposed “sunsetting” Social Security and Medicare. He was referring to Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) infamous 11-point plan to “rescue America,” which would require congressional re-enactment of all federal legislation – including Social Security and Medicare – after five years.

From the audience, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yelled, “Liar.” When other Republicans joined her heckling, Biden embraced their new collective promise not to cut those programs:

“So, folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now. Right? All right. We've got unanimity!”

Republicans applauded the line. Time will tell if the GOP promise sticks.

Other Republican “ideas” would actually increase spending, such as additional border wall funding. Likewise, House Republicans have already voted to approve another GOP “idea”: reduce $80 billion in previously authorized IRS funding slated to hire 87,000 more employees and modernize antiquated systems. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Republican plan would actually increase the deficit because it would reduce federal revenue by $186 billion.

The most candid of the congressional far-right extremists would refuse to increase the debt limit at all and allow the economy to go off a cliff—like the title characters in Thelma & Louise speeding into the Grand Canyon.

Prominent financial players, including Bank of America CEO Bryan Moynihan, hope that default doesn’t happen. But as Moynihan observed on February 6, “Hope is not a strategy.” He is preparing his institution for a possible U.S. default, and he’s not alone.

Five rational Republicans in the House can stop the madness, provided the Democratic candidate wins Virginia’s February 21 special election for a currently open seat.

Otherwise, it will take six.

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