December 7, 2022

As GOP lawmakers double down on their vow to hold the economy hostage to force cuts to popular federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security, progressives are reiterating their call for Democrats to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and take away Republicans' leverage before they assume control of the House next month.

"If the debt ceiling is not raised, our economy will come to a crashing halt," Social Security Works tweeted Tuesday. "Republicans are set on using your earned Social Security benefits as a bargaining chip. Democrats need to act NOW and raise the debt limit before it's too late!"

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested before last month's midterms, during which Republicans won a slight majority, that he would refuse to lift the country's arbitrary borrowing limit unless Democrats agreed to slash the social safety net and climate investments in return.

Now that McCarthy is trying to secure enough votes to be elected House speaker, he is facing pressure from several right-wing colleagues to state specifically how he would approach the debt ceiling question "before they decide whether to support him on January 3 for the most powerful position in Congress," CNN reported Tuesday. The California Republican "can only afford to lose four GOP votes."

"In interviews with CNN, more than two dozen House GOP lawmakers laid out their demands to avoid the nation's first-ever debt default, ranging from new immigration policies to imposing deep domestic spending cuts," the outlet reported. "And several Republicans flatly said they would oppose raising the borrowing limit even if all their demands were met, making McCarthy's narrow path even narrower."

"For McCarthy, the debt ceiling debate will represent one of his most difficult balancing acts if he's elected speaker: He would need to work with Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden to cut a deal and avoid economic catastrophe without angering his emboldened right flank for caving into the left," CNN noted. "And unlike other bills in the GOP House that will die in the Democratic-led Senate, a debt ceiling increase is one of the few must-pass items awaiting the new Congress—something many Republicans see as critical leverage."

An unnamed Republican who has been critical of McCarthy told the outlet that certain members of the House Freedom Caucus—a far-right alliance with the potential to dethrone the party leader and former speaker—are particularly keen to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to impose austerity.

"I don't fear not raising the debt ceiling, because if we didn't raise the debt ceiling, all that would mean [is] we'd have to cut discretionary spending so we stop spending more than we're taking in," said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.). "That's a panic here in Washington because we're so beholden to spending."

If the U.S. were to default on its debt, the economic consequences would be catastrophic. Knowing this, several GOP lawmakers have made clear their willingness to go to the edge to coerce Democrats into accepting socially damaging welfare cuts. Notably, Capitol Hill's deficit hawks are not in favor of reducing the Pentagon's ballooning budget or hiking taxes on the wealthy to increase revenue.

As many observers have pointed out repeatedly in recent weeks, Democrats have the power to prevent this high-risk game of brinkmanship from proceeding any further by raising the debt ceiling—or abolishing it altogether—while they still control both chambers of Congress.

With Republicans set to take control of the House in less than 30 days—and the party's senators also expressing their eagerness to use a debt ceiling fight as leverage to extract concessions—the window for Democratic action is rapidly closing.

Citing CNN's new reporting—in which Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a right-wing lawmaker supportive of defunding and privatizing Medicare and Social Security, claimed that the federal budget contains "a lot of fat and garbage... that we can cut"—Social Security Works wrote on social media that "Democrats can stop this scheme by raising the debt ceiling before the end of the year!"

According to CNN, "Democrats had hoped to raise the debt ceiling in the current lame-duck session of Congress, but they're running out of time and there's little political will to do so since the borrowing limit won't need to be raised until next year some time."

Taking such a lackadaisical approach, progressives counter, is a huge mistake.

A 2011 debt ceiling standoff enabled the GOP to force spending cuts and also resulted in a historic downgrading of the U.S. government's credit rating. According to CNN, some Republicans—fearful of both a disastrous default and political backlash for assaulting popular programs—remain uneasy about using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, recalling how then-Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposal to privatize Medicare "became fodder for attacks that depicted him rolling an elderly lady in a wheelchair off a cliff."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), however, has warned that GOP lawmakers desperate to win the White House in 2024 will "blow up the economy" and run ads blaming Biden for it unless Democrats swiftly abolish the U.S. debt ceiling—something conservative members of the party, following the president's lead, appear hesitant to do.

To avoid being bullied by House Republicans, Democrats must "do everything we can in the lame-duck session to prepare for the chaos that is coming," Warren said in a recent speech. The Massachusetts Democrat insisted once again on the need to "eliminate the debt ceiling now"—a proposal backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Republished from Common Dreams (Kenny Stancil, staff writer) under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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