Opinion | Republicans’ secret economic agenda? A global financial crisis.


After refusing for months to divulge what they’d do if they regained control of Congress, Republicans have finally revealed some of their economic agenda.

Unfortunately, it might involve causing a global financial crisis, based on recent interviews with some GOP congressmen.

Poll after poll shows that Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats on economic issues. This is probably unsurprising: Democrats control both Congress and the White House, and the country is experiencing its worst bout of inflation in four decades. Stocks have tumbled. Mortgage rates have spiked. Recession risks have undoubtedly risen.

Of course voters will express displeasure with the party they perceive to be steering the economy.

But it’s unclear why they assume Republicans would do any better.

The GOP has not said how it would tackle inflation or other major economic challenges, including a recession. This is the party, after all, that had no platform in 2020; and when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked in January what Republicans would do if they regained the majority, he dodged: “That is a very good question,” he said, “and I’ll let you know when we take it back.”

The midterm elections should be a referendum on the Biden administration’s record, McConnell argued. Meanwhile, presumably, the GOP agenda can remain a blank slate onto which voters project their wildest fantasies.

Despite McConnell’s efforts, some details have been etched in by Republican lawmakers. To be clear, none of them have clarified their strategy for fighting inflation, unless you count shouting “SOCIALISM!” and “KEYSTONE!” over and over. But they have given a peek at other economic priorities.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and other Republicans have recently backed proposals to make the 2017 Trump tax cuts permanent, as well as to extend or expand several other corporate tax breaks.

Never mind that Americans think corporations already pay too little in taxes, according to many polls. Cutting taxes further is also likely to make inflation worsefor the same reason that Republicans argue that increased government spending can also make inflation worse: giving people more cash to spend when there’s limited stuff to buy drives prices up.

The scariest part of the recently disclosed GOP economic agenda, however, has largely gone under the radar. It’s the plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage next year, which could easily precipitate a global financial catastrophe.

Republicans have withheld their support from raising the debt limit before, usually framing their hostage-taking as a commitment to fiscal restraint. But the debt ceiling has nothing to do with new spending; rather, it’s a somewhat arbitrary statutory cap on how much the government can borrow to pay off bills that it has already incurred, through tax and spending decisions that Congress has already made. Refusing to raise the debt limit is like going to a restaurant, ordering the lobster and a $500 bottle of wine, and then declaring yourself financially responsible because you skipped out on the check.

Actually, it’s worse than that.

If lawmakers dine-and-dash on behalf of Uncle Sam, they tarnish the creditworthiness of the United States and can make it more expensive for the federal government to borrow in the future because investors don’t trust us. Worse, they might accidentally blow up every other financial market on Earth, too.

That’s because US debt is now viewed as the safest of safe assets. Virtually all other assets around the world are benchmarked against US Treasury securities. If we default on our debt obligations — or even come close to default — that raises the question of the riskness of everything else investors buy and can send shockwaves of panic through every other market.

In a Bloomberg Government article last week, the four Republican lawmakers interested in serving as House Budget Committee chairman in the next Congress all said they’d refuse to raise the debt ceiling next year unless Democrats agree to entitlement cuts and work requirements on safety-net programs — that is, measures Dems would find abhorrent. This would set the stage for another high-stakes showdown.

Recall that when Republicans held the debt limit hostage in 2011, the United States’ credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history because we came perilously close to default. Since then, the GOP has become more politically unhinged, which means brinkmanship might well go further, which makes a debt default — even by accident — more likely.

Yet, in threatening this scenario, Rep. Jason T. Smith (Mo.), ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, says: “The debt limit is clearly one of those tools that Republicans — that a Republican-controlled Congress — will use to make sure that we do everything we can to make this economy strong.”

Forcing a debt limit crisis, as the world teeters on the verge of recession, is the opposite of what you would pursue if you care about strengthening the economy. But no matter: Just look at the context-free polls! Surely, under GOP stewardship, the economy will be in good hands.

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