The Public and the Debt Ceiling

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Responding to an unconfirmed Wall Street Journal article suggesting that President Obama might be willing to negotiate with Republicans over increasing the debt ceiling limit, Jon Chait says:

There’s a massive weakness in [the GOP] position that Democrats have not tried to exploit. Republicans are winning leverage by communicating their willingness to do something really unpopular, but they are communicating this inside Washington without having to communicate it outside Washington. If Obama insists he will only sign a clean debt limit bill, and will negotiate budget changes as part of the budget, what do Republicans do? They become solely responsible for the consequences of refusing to raise the debt ceiling. Let them go explain that to their business backers. 

Really unpopular? Here’s a poll in January showing that 71% of Americans oppose increasing the debt ceiling. Here’s a poll in February putting the number at 62%. Here’s another one from March putting it at 60%. And here’s one from April that put it at 62% after it was explained that raising the debt ceiling meant the United States might default on its debt.

Now, I don’t think these numbers will stay this high once the debt ceiling fight takes center stage and everyone gets a better idea of what it really means to refuse to raise it. Still, like it or not, liberals have long since lost the public opinion battle over the deficit. Poll after poll makes it clear that most people want to cut federal spending and don’t want to raise the debt ceiling. Sure, it’s a vague sentiment, and it falls apart when you ask them what they want to cut, but the fact remains that the public is largely on the Republican side of this battle right now. I happen to agree with Chait and others that Obama would be better off sticking to his guns and demanding a clean bill, but it’s also worth acknowledging that this strategy starts from the bottom of a pretty deep hole. As usual, the liberal community has done a crappy job of selling the public on our perspective. Now we’re paying the price.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate