A reader who has first-hand experience from the 1990s playing “chicken” with debt ceiling votes tells me that “there’s no useful political leverage” to be gained from the exercise. He compares threats to withhold raising the debt ceiling with threats to nuke the old Soviet Union – “superficially powerful, but actually too dreadful to seriously consider.”
This was my initial thought, and it was probably a good one, whatever Lindsey Graham says on Meet the Press.
That said, the political risk of a default on the public debt isn’t limited to Republicans. The presumption is that the Republicans would take the blame because they would be the ones who refuse to raise the debt ceiling. However, the electorate is deeply disturbed by the mind-boggling magnitude of the debt. If the Democrats are viewed as unwilling seriously to grapple with the problem, they might take the fall if Republicans feel compelled to resort to “the nuclear option.”
It may also be worth noting that, as a Senator, Barack Obama denounced raising the debt ceiling in 2006. And, as Andy McCarthy points out, he did so at a time when the issue was raising it to $9 trillion. Under Obama’s presidency, it has already been raised above $14 trillion.
My sense, though, is that the Democrats will make enough cosmetic concessions on debt reduction to put the onus of Republicans in the event of default. AIn sum, the Dems have the better hand, but still must play it well.
I’ll conclude with the advice offered by our once-burned reader:
When you use flashy tactics that threaten to disrupt Americans’ daily lives – when you in effect hold them hostage – you will generate an ugly backlash. Use the dullness of the appropriations process to our advantage to squeeze savings out of the budget. If the budget is in better shape in 2012 without tax increases, there will be plenty of credit for Republicans, even if the voters didn’t see every change on the nightly news.
ANOTHER THOUGHT: If Obama agrees to enough cuts to give him a bit of political cover, but not enough cuts to satisfy Republicans, an alternative to the “nuclear option” is a refusal to fund key portions of Obamacare (something Republicans should consider doing anyway). Republicans would no longer be “threatening to disrupt Americans’ daily lives.” Instead, they would be attempting to block an expensive, unpopular new program on the grounds that the Democrats haven’t agreed to the cuts needed to cope with our out of control debt problem.
Jeff Miles at Ricochet contends that “ultimately the proponents of the law will find a way to fund its mechanism” even if Congress attempts to starve it. I don’t know whether that is the case, but I’d like to put proponents to the test.