The Threat to Our Democracy from the Debt Ceiling Deal

Bob Greenstein, president of the well-respected Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), lays out the broader consequence of the self-inflicted debt ceiling crisis and, in short, it's a "terrifying" new framework of federal budget politics that enshrines minority rule and threatens to "undermine democracy."

The U.S. Capitol

Leaving aside the awful details of the deal itself, which include punitive discretionary caps, a special joint committee that likely won’t raise any revenues, and potential arbitrary across-the-board cuts, Greenstein says, "[I]t's the precedent that Republican congressional leaders say the crisis has established" that is the true threat to our democracy.

Several Republican leaders have already spoken out about either replaying the last crisis by withholding votes on a future debt limit increase and risking financial collapse unless specific policy goals, i.e. spending cuts, are met (Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)), or that all future debt limit raises should entail dollar-for-dollar spending cuts (Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)).

Neither of these approaches is acceptable, as the first will continually threaten the full faith and credit of our nation and both risk sowing long-term turmoil into our economy. As Greenstein points out, if Congress were to adopt a dollar-for-dollar debt ceiling policy, even under Rep. Ryan’s unnecessarily miserly budget that entails over $4 trillion in cuts, future congresses would have to raise the debt ceiling another $6 trillion to incorporate the budget’s debt, necessitating that same amount in what would be even further draconian cuts.

Of course, future increases of the debt ceiling do not have to play out like the most recent debacle, though it will take a concerted effort from the public to demand that future congresses stop playing games with the debt ceiling. Polling conducted since the resolution of the debt ceiling crisis has shown that people were disgusted and angry over the way Congress handled the issue, with congressional Republicans fairing the worst.

The public must convert that frustration into an actionable demand of their elected officials – especially those lawmakers that have swaddled themselves in the garb of constitutional fealty but have displayed an utter disdain for the processes of our representative democracy, particularly during this latest crisis – and insist that they renounce debt ceiling brinksmanship.

Image by Flickr user vpickering used under a Creative Commons license.

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