How fitting it is that just days after Groundhog Day, Americans have awoken to discover yet again that House Republicans are doing anew what they’ve long done over and over.
Republicans are spewing the usual right-wing rhetoric – only to have it collide with the reality of actual governance.
As you probably know, they’re currently threatening to make it impossible for Uncle Sam to pay his bills (by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, a move that would crash the economy). Paying those bills is an obligatory requirement under federal law, but House Republicans insist they won’t play ball... unless President Biden first agrees to slash future spending on a wide range of federal programs.
Never mind the fact Republicans voted three times (along with Democrats) to raise the debt ceiling during the Trump presidency, seven times during the George W. Bush era, and 18 times during Ronald Reagan’s reign. Now, with Joe Biden in the White House, they’re suddenly concerned about red ink.
While they’re talking a grand game about the urgent need to cut and slash Big Guv’mint, in truth they have no idea what to cut and slash. Their nutcase extremists want to target Social Security and Medicare, but House leaders have already ruled that out for the obvious reason that cutting those programs would wreck real people’s lives. And they certainly don’t want to slash the defense budget, because that would undercut their shtick about how Biden is “weak.”
To fully appreciate how lost they are in the halls of governance, check out the following exchange. On CNN earlier this week, host Jim Sciutto asked a back-bench House Republican named Dusty Johnson to specifically list the federal programs that Biden should cut. He asked Johnson three times to identify the president’s “reckless” spending. It did not go well.
Sciutto: “What specific programs are you putting on the table to cut?”
Johnson: “Well, that’s not how a negotiation works.”
Sciutto: “A negotiation, as you know, involves two sides presenting their positions. Can you name a single program that Republicans would be willing to cut money from to make a deal?”
Johnson: “But see, I think that’s ridiculously unfair.”
Sciutto: “Please, go ahead. Is there a program that you can name that you personally would be willing to see money cut from?”
Johnson: “Well, yes, there are lots of programs. But that – but the point is, I’m not going to negotiate against the Republican Party on CNN...Your goal is to try to get Republicans to negotiate against themselves and to try to identify programs.”
Sciutto: “No, my goal is to find out what your positions are...Can you name a defense program you’d be willing to cut from?”
Johnson: We will not “bring forth all of these admittedly difficult-to-discuss cuts.”
It’s clear why Republicans fear specifics. Whenever they’ve pulled that stunt in the past, they’ve gotten burned.
In 1995, Newt Gingrich’s House conservatives threatened to hold the debt ceiling hostage unless President Clinton surrendered on Medicare and Medicaid spending. A year later, Clinton won re-election with ease. In 2011, the House GOP again threatened not to raise the debt ceiling as a way to hamper President Obama; a year later, Obama won re-election with ease.
Marc Thiessen, a commentator based at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, warned that Republicans are nuts to threaten (yet again!) making it impossible for the government to pay its bills: “If the United States reaches the brink of insolvency, myriad problems could follow. The stock market could plummet, interest rates could skyrocket, our national credit rating could be downgraded, millions of jobs could be lost and inflation could climb even further. And Republicans would assume ownership of the economic debacle...If Republicans want to all but guarantee a second Biden term, picking a debt ceiling fight is a great way to do it.”
But those ideologues wake up every morning with the same old tune. They just never learn.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org