Are Republicans Bluffing About The Debt Ceiling?


Republicans are prepared to let the country hit its debt limit and creep toward default while they push for a major structural change in the way the country spends money, without entertaining any tax increases of any kind. They’re also adamant that Congress will raise the debt limit before the country defaults.

But if default isn’t an option, haven’t they given up their leverage?

At his Capitol press briefing with reporters on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) left Republicans wiggle room. “We are only talking about even doing this if we can be assured there are guarantees in place that the spending doesn’t get out of control again,” he said. “[W]e are not going to go blindly raise the debt limit, like Mr. Hoyer is advocating, without guarantees in place that spending doesn’t get out of control again.”The word “guarantees” is doing a lot of work there. It could imply real, immediate changes in law, or aspirational stuff — spending caps or other measures that only have as much force of law as the political system will allow.

Cantor didn’t draw a line when asked.

He also didn’t say exactly what Republicans would ask for in return for raising the debt limit. But he listed a few ideas.

All the things that we have talked about need to be considered here. One certainly is spending caps both on the discretionary spending side and the mandatory side. There are other proposals out there to balance the budget, constitutional amendments and then some. I was just with Senator Mike Lee [R-UT] last night and he indicated they have a bill over there. I haven’t taken a look at it, but I understand that it has got a lot of these provisions in it.

That’s a range of options from conservative wish list stuff like slashing entitlements, to pie in the sky political non-starters like a balanced budget amendment. Those are huge price tags if you’ve already signaled that you’re not ready to let the country spiral into economic oblivion in order to get your way. Listen closely over the next several weeks as Republicans clarify what their ransom is. That’ll say everything about how aware they are of the weak hand they’ve dealt themselves in these negotiations.