Seeing the Debt Ceiling Fight From the Other Side

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As the debt ceiling fight drags on, we’re seeing more and more reporting about just what it is that motivates tea partiers to be so frenzied on the subjects of Obamacare, the national debt, and government spending in general. Roughly speaking, the conclusion of these pieces of ethnography is that tea partiers have an almost panicky belief in several things:

  • The growth of the welfare state is sapping the strength of the country as more and more people are allowed to live off the taxes of others.
  • Obamacare is the tipping point: if it’s allowed to stand, the fight against welfare entitlements is lost.
  • Likewise, the United States has reached the breaking point on its national debt. If it’s allowed to keep growing, the country is doomed.
  • Refusing to raise the debt ceiling may be tough medicine, but it needs to be done in order to rein in spending right now.

If you believe these things, then you wouldn’t care about polls or charges of hostage taking or any of that. You’d feel like you were literally fighting a war for the future of your country, and anything is worth the cost. Shut down the government. Breach the debt ceiling. Do anything. Just make sure to stop the spending, rein in welfare programs, and stop Obamacare. The fate of the United States literally depends on it.

But there’s more to it. A lot of tea partiers just flatly don’t believe that breaching the debt ceiling is the big deal that liberals are making it out to be. Not only does spending need to be cut anyway, but it’s not even that hard. This is how you get interviews like this one, from Brett LoGiurato of Business Insider. He’s talking to David Biddle, a GOP state committeeman who lives in Rep. Ted Yoho’s Florida district:

“There’s a scare tactic out there that if we breach the debt ceiling and default, there’s just no more money coming in, and that’s just not the case,” Biddle said. “There’s money to be allocated different ways. And maybe you have to make some cuts somewhere that might not make everybody happy, but at some point, you have to say, enough is enough.”

So what can we cut? Social Security? Medicare? Those are the big, long-term problems on our docket.

“No one’s going to cut Social Security or Medicare. That’s another scare tactic,” Biddle said.

So what can we cut now?

“You can start with foreign aid. Cut that out. You can cut, you know, federal arts …” Biddle said.

“There are a lot of grants,” adds Bob Clemons, a director of finance for the local school board.

“Grants. There’s a lot of grants,” Biddle confirms.

There’s a pause for about 10 seconds.

“It’s a big problem,” Clemons said.

“It is. It is,” Biddle said.

Like a lot of people, Biddle simply doesn’t accept that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is a big deal. He thinks there’s plenty of spending that can be cut if we have to. He doesn’t know what, and apparently he doesn’t want to start talking about welfare in front of a reporter from New York, but he knows it’s there. Given all that, what’s wrong with using the debt ceiling as a hostage to force spending cuts or the end of Obamacare? It’s just ordinary leverage, not a threat of financial Armageddon.

For more, read the whole piece. It’s worth a few minutes of your time.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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