If there was any doubt that I'm a political junkie, I offer as evidence how much I enjoyed watching MSNBC last night as Republicans flamed out on a dramatic 14th attempt to elect Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, finally succeeding on the 15th try after the last GOP rebels voted "present" rather than for another candidate.
I loved watching a fight nearly break out between two House Republicans. The conflicts in Yellowstone (TV series) are entertaining, but fictional. This was real life, beamed nationwide by CSPAN.
The most dramatic moment by far came near the end — during the 14th round of voting on Friday, in what almost everyone had hoped would be the final round.
Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) had ensured all eyes would be on him, refusing to answer the initial call of the clerk and maneuvering so that he would have a later, deciding vote. He eventually voted “present” — prompting fellow Republicans who believed this would secure McCarthy’s position as speaker to give him a standing ovation.
In fact, his “present” vote left McCarthy still one vote short. As Democrats laughed and Gaetz ignored appeals from McCarthy and his allies to break the stalemate, one member’s temper boiled over: Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) began shouting at Gaetz and had to be physically restrained by another lawmaker, who grabbed Rogers, including across his mouth, and pulled him back.
Gasps could be heard across the House chamber as lawmakers realized how close they had come to a physical altercation.
However, now that McCarthy is speaker, House Republicans can turn their penchant for chaos in other directions.
Since the Senate and presidency are still in Democratic hands, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the House to pass any legislation that damages our country -- since those bills won't be able to become law.
But there will be plenty of investigations into the Biden administration, notwithstanding the inconvenient truth that there really is very little, if any, wrongdoing to investigate. We might even see the House voting to impeach Biden for some absurd reason, which would be a wonderful contribution to his re-election chances.
What really worries me is this: House Republicans refusing to raise the national debt limit, which probably will need to happen around August.
Political pissing matches over raising the debt limit happen with disturbing regularity, though Republicans compliantly raised it when Trump was in office, demonstrating their hypocrisy. The debt limit is an archaic law that shouldn't even exist, since it simply allows the federal government to pay bills that Congress has already authorized.
So failing to raise the debt limit doesn't affect federal spending at all. It just means that some things the federal government has agreed to pay for -- defense, Social Security, Medicare, national parks, etc. -- run the risk of not having borrowed money available to do this.
Thus not raising the debt limit is like someone refusing to pay their credit card bill, or mortgage. If this happened, their credit rating would sink like a stone. Ditto with the federal government if House Republicans were to prevent it from meeting its financial obligations.
Interest rates on government bonds would rise dramatically, since investors would want a risk premium now that the federal government has shown it can't pay all of its bills. The stock market would plummet. Social Security checks might not appear in people's bank accounts. Hospitals and doctors might not be paid for giving care to Medicare and Medicaid patients.
Nasty stuff. All so the extreme right-wing House Freedom Caucus can exercise the power that Kevin McCarthy handed over to them in exchange for them giving him the votes needed for McCarthy to become speaker.
While August may seem a long ways off, time flies and Debt Limit Default Season will be here before summer vacations end. Democrats should have raised the debt limit on their own when they had the chance.
Since they didn't, the next best thing is described in a well-argued 2021 article by Neil Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, "The Worst Sequel of 2021: Debt Ceiling Zombies Attack!" It's well worth reading in its entirety.
Here's a few excerpts. Basically it calls for Biden to simply ignore the debt ceiling, if Republicans refuse to raise it.
Last week, Senate Republicans announced that they have decided not to participate in the necessary adjustment of the federal debt ceiling at the end of this month, playing politics once again with the full faith and credit of the United States of America. President Biden must shut down the Republicans’ debt ceiling gambit, and he must do so now.
...The debt ceiling statute should not exist at all, but given that it does, Biden must stop Republicans from using it in this way ever again. But how can he stop them from doing their worst? By announcing, clearly and unequivocally, that he has the power and the responsibility not to allow Republicans to ruin the country. The Constitution, as we know, is not a suicide pact. Fortunately, it gives the President the power to stop this madness now.
...Not all bad policy is unconstitutional, of course, but fortunately, there are incontrovertible legal reasons that the debt ceiling cannot be used as the Republicans plan to use it.
One reason was summarized by Professor Laurence Tribe over the weekend:
Sec. 4 of the 14th Am prohibits any default on Treasury’s obligations. If Congress fails to raise the debt limit, Executive action to avoid default arguably violates Congress’s exclusive power of the purse but is the lesser of two constitutional evils.
This is a notable development, because Professor Tribe had originally expressed some skepticism about this Fourteenth Amendment-based argument when it first arose during the Republicans’ debt ceiling gambits in the Obama years. He now agrees that the relevant constitutional provision—“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”—requires the President to borrow to prevent a default that would most assuredly bring the validity of the public debt into question.
...All of which means that President Biden should do what Barack Obama never did (and what the Republicans never forced Donald Trump to do), which is to say now, in advance of any drop-dead date, that the debt ceiling cannot be used as Republicans are trying to use it. If the time comes, he must instruct the Treasury Department to pay all bills in full, using exactly as much borrowed money as Congress’s duly enacted laws require. And he should tell everyone, right now, that this is what he will do.
Even in horror movies, there is always a way that zombies can be killed, finally and truly. It is time for President Biden to put this zombie out of our misery.