GOP Shouldn't Be Eager to Play Debt Limit Chicken

Semi appears to have shark's teeth
Many Republicans are consoling themselves over the fiscal cliff fiasco by tricking themselves into believing they can make up lost ground in the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations. After all, they argue, the GOP has the hostages leverage. If the White House doesn't give into their demands, they can crash the economy.

The problem with this thinking is that the debt ceiling fight -- as was the fiscal cliff fight -- was not a hostage negotiation so much as it was a game of chicken. That is, if Republicans could crash the economy if they didn't get what they wanted, so could the President for the same reason. The question then, was who would climb out of the twisted wreckage and who would wind up on life support. Polling showed that Republicans would be the ones taking the damage, so it was Republicans who made the biggest concessions. Any hostages held -- and there were hostages -- didn't mean crap.

An old hand at political brinksmanship (and over-the-brinksmanship, for that matter) is warning the GOP that the debt ceiling fight is not going to be the big chance at a political comeback Republicans seem to think it will be.


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday that the upcoming showdown over the debt ceiling isn’t a political winner for House Republicans, dubbing it a “dead loser.”

“They’ve got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy,” Gingrich said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Everybody’s now talking about, ‘Oh, here comes the debt ceiling.’ I think that’s, frankly, a dead loser. Because in the end you know it’s gonna happen. The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television and say: ‘Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.’ And they’ll cave.”

Gingrich is inarguably a spinmeister and a BS artist, but this seems pretty on the money. In this game of chicken, as in the last one, President Obama's driving a Mack truck and Republicans are all packed into a Yugo. You don't have to be The Amazing Kreskin to see that this isn't going to work out well for Team GOP. Yes, most Americans don't want to see the debt limit raised -- at least, they didn't last time -- but that's probably because they don't have a clear idea of what it is or what will happen if we don't raise it.

If the ceiling isn't raised, if America goes into default, and if the world economy crashes, then Republicans are deluding themselves if they think the public will shower them with adoration and give them "credit" for it. Not raising the debt ceiling seems like a good idea if you're not entirely sure of what that is, but the resulting worldwide recession or depression is not something you're going to want your fingerprints all over.

And President Obama has already said he won't bargain for a debt ceiling raise, for the same reason you don't negotiate with terrorists -- he doesn't want to encourage future hostage taking by the GOP. He's setting this up as another game of chicken.

In this game of chicken, Republicans might as well be pedal to the metal -- straight into a brick wall. It's impossible for them to win, unless President Obama chooses to lose.


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