U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has cited Thursday, January 19, 2023 as the day the United States is likely to reach its debt limit, although she has also said that she can keep the federal government open through June by resorting to “extraordinary measures.” Yellen has stressed that the sooner Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Republicans can reach some type of agreement on the debt ceiling, the better. But the two major parties appear to be at a stalemate in the House, where Freedom Caucus and Tea Party Republicans are demanding major spending cuts and Democrats are maintaining that vital programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should not be on the chopping block.
Meanwhile, countless economists are warning that if the U.S. defaults on its debt obligations, the results would be disastrous economically and trigger a painful recession. Liberal economist Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column, has warned that House Republicans are happy to risk a financial calamity in the hope of butchering Social Security and Medicare. And Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes has argued that House Republicans aren’t being “fiscally conservative” when they play “chicken” with the U.S. economy and risk a default on the United States’ debt obligations — they’re being reckless and irresponsible.
Journalist Ben Beckett, an American journalist presently living in Vienna, Austria, calls House Republicans out in a biting article published by the democratic socialist Jacobin on January 18. House Republicans, Beckett warns, are using the debt ceiling debate as an excuse to try to butcher the United States’ social safety net.
“There’s little technical reason for the debt ceiling to exist at all — a view shared, among others, by Yellen herself,” Beckett explains. “Despite support from even moderate figures like Yellen, Democrats refused to eliminate the debt ceiling when they controlled both houses of Congress. Instead, they handed Republicans a loaded gun. With the debt ceiling, as with counting votes or certifying an election, the right hopes to seize on this otherwise drab government function as a point of leverage to thrust unpopular ideas onto the country.”
Beckett continues, “A faction of the incoming House Republican majority all but forced Kevin McCarthy to commit to shutting down the government before they would support his run for speaker of the House. To be fair, McCarthy hardly needed to be strong-armed; he already said last fall that he planned to play chicken with Democrats over a government shutdown in order to force cuts to Social Security and other government programs.”
The 2022 midterms found Republicans flipping the House, where they now outnumber Democrats but only by single digits. Nonetheless, Beckett laments that the debt ceiling fight “favors the right” in the House.
“Republicans are only too happy for most of the government to close down, meaning they have far less to lose in sticking to a hard line in negotiations,” Beckett observes. “That leaves (President Joe) Biden and Democrats with two unacceptable outcomes: a nonfunctioning government, or draconian cuts to the federal budget, including potentially to Social Security and Medicare. The most likely course of events is after several weeks of needless pain, representatives of economic sectors that depend to a greater extent on steady credit and government regulation will put enough pressure on McCarthy to go back on his promises to the far-right members of his caucus.”
Beckett continues, “He’ll eventually force through a stopgap measure that gets Democrats to agree to inflict significant pain on the American people for no good reason — if not as much as Republicans want — and then, the far right of the party will depose him as speaker. Some other equally masochistic empty suit will take his place, we’ll all forget about it for six months, nothing will change, and then, it will be time for the country to take another stupid ride on the same merry-go-round, our pockets a little emptier for it. Doesn’t it always seem to turn out that way somehow?”