Despite agreeing to a budget this month, it seems Congressional Republicans are not yet done holding the economic fate of the country hostage in order to pass aspects of its agenda. In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told host Chris Wallace that it would be “irresponsible” for Republicans not to try to add amendments to a bill raising the debt ceiling, which they may need to pass as early late February. Failure to pass a debt ceiling increase would be catastrophic for the economy, forcing the country to default on its obligations:
WALLACE: So are you saying right here, “We are going to attach something to the debt ceiling”? And if so, what?
MCCONNELL: What I’m saying is we ought to attach something significant for the country to [President Obama’s] request to increase the debt ceiling. That’s been the pattern for 50 years, going back to the Eisenhower administration. I think it’s the responsible thing to do for the country. […]
We’re never going to default — the Speaker and I have made that clear. We’ve never done that. But, it’s irresponsible not to use the discussion — the request of the President to raise the debt ceiling — to try to accomplish something for the country.
Asked for a “good example” of what Republicans could demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, McConnell cited the Keystone XL pipeline because it would “create jobs.” In truth, though the project would create nearly 4,000 temporary construction jobs, it would ultimately only create 35 permanent jobs, resulting in “negligible socioeconomic impacts.” Upgrading existing pipelines instead would both create more jobs and help protect the country’s drinking water supply from contamination from leaks.
Since 2011 — motivated in part by the growing influence of the Tea Party — Republicans have viewed the debt ceiling as what McConnell called “a hostage worth ransoming.” It was because of that very brinkmanship that Standard & Poor’s lowered the country’s credit rating, which cost taxpayers $19 billion and lost the country over a million jobs.