Facing a potential breach of the debt ceiling at the end of the month, which would mean the United States couldn’t meet the obligations it’s already incurred and could create a recession worse than any since the Great Depression, House Republican leadership has told its members that it will bring up a “clean” vote to raise it without any other demands attached. That means they ditched a potential effort to make a few demands in return for their votes. The House is scheduled for that vote on Tuesday.
That constitutes a reversal in strategy from the past four years, but a return to the way the debt ceiling has been handled for decades and how Republicans themselves used to handle it. Under President George W. Bush, Republicans voted for a clean debt ceiling increase 19 times, and 104 of them are still in Congress today.
That all changed in 2010, when nearly all freshman Republicans said they wouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Since that time, they have repeatedly brought the country to the brink of default, and the threat in and of itself has had disastrous consequences, helping to shave $150 billion off of economic growth, or the equivalent of 750,000 jobs. Instead of voting to simply raise the debt ceiling and allow the country to pay all of its debts and obligations without any strings attached, they have offered up a long and varied list of demands in exchange for their support.
Some went even further to suggest that breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t come with any consequences. From Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) saying “there is no default,” to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) saying the country could handle “a day or two or three or four” of default, to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) saying it “would bring stability to the world markets,” many Republicans pushed back on the notion that failing to raise the debt limit would send stock markets tanking and interest rates soaring. They also claimed that the Treasury Department could simply “prioritize” which payments to make to ensure that creditors and Social Security recipients get their money, putting forward bills to force the Treasury Department to do just that, despite the fact that then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said it wouldn’t work.
The fight over the debt ceiling in 2011 led to the first-ever downgrade of U.S. credit, and the battle at the end of last year almost led to another.