Ezra Klein on Brinksmanship

Seriously? Republicans’ new debt-ceiling demand is…tax reform? And not even deficit-reducing tax reform?

Some caveats are in order here: This appears to be the demand Republican congressional leaders want to attach to the debt ceiling. It’s possible that they won’t be able to get their members to agree. And it’s possible they see this as a deescalation on the debt ceiling. Democrats can agree to fast-track tax reform in a way they can’t — or at least won’t — agree to pass the Ryan budget.

But the precedent is noxious. The argument in 2011 was that the U.S. fiscal situation was so dire that raising the debt ceiling absent cuts and reforms was more irresponsible than default. This led to the Boehner rule: A dollar in cuts for every dollar in debt ceiling increase. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

This is the normalization of debt ceiling brinksmanship. After the election, Republicans threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Senate Democrats released a budget — a budget, by the way, that Republicans now refuse to go to conference and consider. Now, perhaps, Republicans will threaten to breach the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to a particular framework for tax reform. The debt ceiling is becoming all-purpose leverage.

This isn’t desperate times forcing desperate measures. These are normal times being punctuated by dangerous measures. Having repeatedly failed to win back control of the government, Republicans are trying to turn the debt ceiling into a continuous and flexible form of leverage for the minority. That’s an immensely dangerous precedent to set even if the underlying demands and aims are reasonable.


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