The threat that the federal government might shut down as soon as this week, and that it might default on its debts by mid-October, is a result of a ridiculous game of political chicken being played in the halls of Congress.
There are partisan arguments going in both directions and fair amounts of blame to go around. But right now, it is the play-acting fiscal conservatives of the Republican Party who are about to push the global economy into a horrible recession just for the chance to make the Democrats, who now hold the White House and razor-thin majorities in Congress, look bad.
This is not responsible governing. This is a political death cult. And it is troubling in the extreme that even such normally responsible adults as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney appear to be supporting such destructive actions.
It is irrational and immoral to oppose raising the debt limit without first building a realistic plan to balance the budget, rein in defense spending and entitlements. Just blocking necessary action solves nothing. It threatens to cost taxpayers billions in lost productivity and lost pay even as it undermines national security and confidence in government.
Members of Congress who can’t handle this adult work should just resign.
The Treasury Department says that, unless Congress raises the federal debt limit by Oct. 18, the government stands to start defaulting on its debt, something that would damage everything from the survival of those dependent on Social Security to international capital markets. And without one of those continuing resolutions that Congress often passes to keep the lights on for a while longer, the government may have to shut down for lack of cash as soon as Thursday.
Either of those events would be an ice pick in the heart of the economy, just at a time when a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic looked promising.
The Republican line on this is that the growth of federal spending and of the national debt is a Democratic creation and so, if Congress is to keep the Federal Reserve’s printing press operating, it will have to be with all Democratic votes. In theory, that’s doable.
Yet when Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, moved Monday to pass a bill that would keep the government running and the debts paid, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell used Senate rules to block the vote. Which he was able to do only because none of the Republicans in the Senate — including Romney and Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee — broke ranks to do the responsible thing.
The GOP argument also ignores the indisputable fact that the shape of the budget and the size of the debt have as many Republican fingerprints on them as Democratic. For the Republicans to blame the size of the debt on Democrats, when it is the Trump-era tax cuts that are at the center of the current deficit, is dishonest.
Romney wasn’t in the Senate when the Trump tax bill was passed. But he is still wrong to argue the debt ceiling is about to be breached due to Democratic spending preferences. And he is wrong to suggest that avoiding a default on existing debt, every dime of it incurred through acts of Congress passed by Democratic and Republican majorities, has anything to do with spending proposals now before Congress.
Just the threat of a shutdown and a default are bad for the economy, undermining investor confidence and driving down prices on Wall Street. Responsible governing on the part of either party would be to pass at least a temporary budget, raise — or eliminate — the debt ceiling and limp along as we have for years, without a responsible budget but also without setting off a nuclear warhead underneath the economy.
Lee’s hyper-partisan behavior is no surprise. Romney, though, had the guts to buck his party leadership on such matters as voting to convict Donald Trump in two impeachment trials and hammering out the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate has already passed.
Even more important than those two acts would be for Romney to do the right thing about keeping the government funded and the debts paid. Certainly, he would derive no personal pleasure from watching the national and global economies crater just for the chance to blame it — falsely — on the Democrats.
And the senator’s fiscally responsible Utah constituents should let him know how they feel about all this.