Republicans Lean In To Threat Of Holding Debt Ceiling Hostage In Exchange For Social Security Cuts

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks to reporters before a meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on November 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angere... WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks to reporters before a meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on November 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Pre-election, Republican lawmakers baffled political observers with their candor: they openly spoke about their plans, should they flip the House, to demand cuts to Medicare and Social Security in exchange for not sending the United States careening into default on its debts. 

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that they’re now doubling down on the plan after the election has largely passed and the chips fell as they did.   

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a top member of Republican leadership, told Bloomberg in a recent interview that Republicans want to take the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for cuts to Social Security and other similar programs. 

“There’s a set of solutions there that we really need to take on if we’re going to get serious about making these programs sustainable and getting this debt bomb at a manageable level before it’s too late,” he said. 

“Typically, I think there’s been a pretty broad bipartisan understanding that default’s not an option,” he added, playing down the potentially catastrophic implications of his party’s brinkmanship. “But at the same time I think there’s an understanding that this does create an opportunity especially if the pressure’s on one side to deliver that outcome.”

Thune specifically named his interest in considering increasing the Social Security retirement age, and broadly suggested that he’d like to explore changes across the board. 

Republican leadership in the House has likewise indicated its interest in the plan, also cloaking it in the language of fiscal responsibility. 

The risk that, this time, Republicans may actually follow through on their threats to refuse to help lift or suspend the debt ceiling is only heightened by a caucus increasingly in the thrall of hardliners like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). 

Some Democrats have been calling for a lame duck fix to avert the potential disaster. Democrats could, without Republican support, hike the debt ceiling so high through reconciliation that we stop bumping up against it. 

But enthusiasm among Democrats for the idea has seemed thin on the ground.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters after a Tuesday White House meeting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the debt ceiling didn’t come up during the discussions. 

Some Democrats have previously expressed apprehension that, in the course of basically babysitting self-destructing Republicans intent on sticking their hands onto a hot stove, they’ll get dinged for greenlighting some enormous sum of government spending. The debt ceiling is actually just authorizing previously allocated money, but the move might incur bad-faith attacks. 

President Joe Biden insisted last month that he “would not yield” to the Republican extortion tactics, but also said he opposed repealing the debt ceiling altogether — a less viable fix than hiking the limit by a large amount, as such a bill would likely be subject to the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold in the Senate.  

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