Who’s Really Responsible For U.S. Debt Downgrade

August 17, 2011 6:00 a.m.

This article was updated at 10:00am Eastern on August 17, 2011 to include additional names pointed out by TPM readers.

Now that Standard & Poors has confirmed that the chorus of default doubters in the GOP was part of what spooked them into downgrading the U.S. credit rating, Republicans will do all they can to pretend that they never questioned the risk of missing payment obligations, or allowing borrowing authority to lapse. But they sure did! Here’s a long, partial timeline of influential Republicans either vouchsafing default, or downplaying the consequences of passing the August 2 deadline without raising the debt limit.Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), May 17, 2011: “You want to make sure that the bondholder has confidence that the government’s going to be able to pay them…. That’s what I’m hearing from most people, which is if a bondholder misses a payment for a day or two or three or four what is more important that you’re putting the government in a materially better position to be able to pay their bonds later on.”

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), May 18, 2011: “What I think is that the markets are looking to see credible progress on changing the fiscal trajectory in Washington. The markets are not fooled by some date imposed to say that that is the trigger for the collapse. I think the markets are looking to see that there is real reform.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), May 19, 2011: “The government is not to be trusted with more of your money, so I will refuse to allow them to borrow more. Now is it a good idea to default? No! But this is a false claim being promoted by big-government advocates. We can simply spend what we take in!”

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), June 24, 2011 on administration warnings of “catastrophic consequences” of not raising debt limit: “I don’t believe them, it’s not true.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), May 18, 2011: “This problem is so urgent that there is — an alternative school of thought has emerged recently,” Toomey said. “The most high-profile advocate for this was Stanley Druckenmiller … one of the world’s most successful hedge-fund managers, extraordinarily wealthy from his knowledge of the markets, a big money manager now, and a big holder of Treasury securities — and he has said that he would actually accept even a delay in interest payments on the Treasuries that he holds. And he would prefer that if it meant that the Congress would right this ship.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), July 13, 2011: “To get a balanced budget amendment in this environment…we’d have to make the serious, credible, earnest threat that if you want to raise [the debt ceiling] and you want to have any Republicans voting for raising it, you’re going to have to assist us: You give us 20 votes to adopt the balanced budget amendment in the Senate and we’ll make sure you get the votes you need to raise the debt limit.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), June 26, 2011: “It isn’t true that the government would default on its debt,” Bachmann told CBS’ Bob Schieffer. “Because, very simply, the Treasury Secretary can pay the interest on the debt first, and then, from there, we have to just prioritize our spending….I have no intention of voting to raise the debt ceiling.”

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), June 27, 2011: Bankruptcy “absolutely” could be the best solution to U.S. debt.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), July 13, 2011 on catastrophic consequences of not raising the debt ceiling: “I would encourage the Speaker not to believe the President anymore when the President says things like that.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), May 16, 2011: “Keeping the debt ceiling at its current level would force Congress to prioritize spending, but it would not force a default on our debt.”

Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, July 15, 2011, asked if not raising debt limit would trigger calamitous consequences: “Maybe not. We don’t know.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), July 18, 2011: “I am a little bit cynical about the scare mongering and putting America’s back up against this Aug. 2 deadline just to get an increase in the American credit card.”

Nebraska Senate candidate Jon Bruning, July 29, 2011: “It may be something that has to happen to make the fundamental changes that are necessary in the American governmental system. We have to shrink it. And, if the Democratic Party that controls the White House and the Senate doesn’t understand it, default may be necessary.”

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), July 24, 2011: “The media gets off on excitement and potential controversy and ‘Oh! Things could collapse!’ and so they’re pushing this whole notion of, ‘Oh, my god! At midnight on August 2nd that one light switch that turns out all the lights in the country: it’s going off. They love to push that story. It’s hooey. It’s absolute hooey.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), July 19, 2011: “America is not going to default. We’re just trying to scare people into being stampeded into a debt-ceiling increase. But we would hold our full faith in credit together regardless, unless the president had decided to punish America by refusing to pay our bills… I think the American people understand what I’ve said: It’s not default. They’ve been calling it default to try to stampede people into taking a bad deal here in this Congress… The American people understand this. They understand at least intuitively that it would be the president who would willfully default if there’s to be a default.”

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), July 23, 2011: “[T]here’s a law that empowers Geithner, excuse me, Secretary Geithner to pay the interest on the debt and prevent a default on August 3rd and well beyond that. And, again, just as importantly, there’s plenty of money coming in with which to pay the debt as it comes due and pay the interest on that debt. So, there’s no need for a default, there’s no need for Social Security checks not to go out. So, to a certain extent I do think, yeah, there’s a good bit of politics driving the brinkmanship here…. I think the deadline is very soft. I’ve been very clear with people that if we do not lift the debt limit there will be pain; there is no question about it. Government contracts will not be paid, government workers will not be paid. But it is not accurate to say that we will automatically default on the debt nor is it accurate to say we cannot make the Social Security payments on August 3rd.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), July 14, 2011: “I don’t buy all this Armageddon stuff”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), August 6, 2011: [From an article in The Washington Post] – “Chaffetz, who voted against both Boehner’s first proposal and the final bill, said he was well aware of how the leadership had used his and others’ willingness to let a default happen as a negotiating chip, and said he didn’t mind at all. “We weren’t kidding around, either,” he said. “We would have taken it down.””

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), [From a July 27, 2011 article in the Durango Herald]: “Tipton, however, argued that Obama overstated the consequences and that enough revenue would be coming in so that most of the United States’ bills, including to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, would be paid. “We do have the ability to meet those obligations,” he said.”

Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), [From a Politico Article dated May 17, 2011]: “It’s absolutely silly. We have plenty of cash flow to pay debt, which means I’m trying to figure out how credibly the administration can keep using that language.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), July 27, 2011
: “There’s still gonna be revenues flowing in, so I think this threat that somehow or another the world is going to come to an end and the threat of ‘We’re not going to be able to pay our bills’ is a bit of a stretch.”

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