Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) bemoaned Thursday that Democrats didn’t just raise the debt ceiling themselves before Republicans got their grubby mitts on it.
“Don’t forget that that could have been solved a long time ago by our Democrat friends simply in their reconciliation bill doing what Leader McConnell asked them to do, which is just raise the debt ceiling yourselves — didn’t need a single Republican vote, not a single vote!” Romney exclaimed at a Senate Budget Committee hearing. “But they chose not to because politicking is the way of this city and it makes the American people sick — frankly, it makes a number of us who serve in these positions a little ill as well.”
Let’s break this down.
Romney is arguing that Democrats let politics get in the way of raising the debt ceiling last congressional term, since they could have raised it with a bare majority. And that’s probably true! At least on paper, Democrats had the votes, but they didn’t want to be saddled with (false) Republican attacks that they’d ballooned the debt.
It was also political motivation that prevented Republicans from voting with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling then, the better to either attack them by conflating raising the debt ceiling with enormous spending, or to preserve leverage for a later date.
Distilled, Romney’s message is this: Darn you Democrats for not taking care of the debt ceiling then, because you knew we’d refuse to raise the limit unless you conceded to our demands, and look what a sticky spot we’re in now.
Again, he’s not wrong! Many were calling for Democrats to take these precautionary measures back then, knowing that Republicans couldn’t be trusted to help address the debt ceiling without creating an extremely dangerous political standoff. But a key component of that situation was Romney’s party’s unwillingness to partake in that responsible move.
He may be blind to the silliness in this point, calling on Democrats to be the grownups because his party is incapable of doing it. After all, this is the same dynamic that underlies so much of the bad coverage of this issue. Democrats are expected to ultimately act responsibly, and Republicans are expected to flirt with burning down the house — when those assumptions are baked in, you get headlines about the onus being on President Joe Biden and the Democrats to negotiate with Republicans much more than you do headlines identifying that Republicans are the ones creating the crisis in the first place.
Democrats maintain that they want to pass a clean debt ceiling increase or suspension. Republicans maintain that they want political concessions they could never get through regular order, or they’ll let the government run out of money to pay its debts and explode the economy.
Only in this town, with all its pesky politicking, could these Republicans berate Democrats for being the irresponsible party.