Kevin McCarthy's debt ceiling gamble: The stupid cruelty of Republicans' default tantrum

Kevin McCarthy's debt limit deal with MAGA will make life for Americans much worse

Published April 27, 2023 5:15AM (EDT)

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen in the U.S. Capitol before a news conference on the House passed the "Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act," on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen in the U.S. Capitol before a news conference on the House passed the "Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act," on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Republicans are yet again holding our nation's economic well-being hostage as they threaten to default on our debt if their ideological demands are unmet. They want to sell this as a kinder, gentler debt ceiling fight. But don't be fooled, this round of unending MAGA extremism is the most toxic version yet. Once again, the GOP's tantrum underscores a sad truth: Republicans have no real economic agenda; they only have MAGA, a worldview as stupid as it is cruel.

This absurd cruelty is at the forefront this week as Republicans inch closer to passing legislation to slash the federal budget back to levels adopted in 2022. In a midnight deal, Speaker Kevin McCarthy made this legislation even more punitive to lock in the votes needed to pass it out of the House, which Republicans control by the slimmest of margins.

MAGA Republicans do not need to negotiate budget cuts through the debt limit process. There is a regular rule of order in the House of Representatives to do so. Yet despite controlling the House, Republicans have yet to release a budget or pass legislation to address MAGA policy priorities that can get through the Senate, let alone be signed by the President. They have not released a budget because their economic priorities of cutting Social Security and Medicare are politically toxic. 

Ironically, conservatives have traditionally raised the debt ceiling (with help from Democrats) when there is a Republican president. They have also massively increased the deficit when they hold the White House. According to the Washington Post, "In the ten debt ceiling votes under a Republican administration, an average of 65 percent of House Republicans and 74 percent of Senate Republicans voted in favor of adjusting or suspending it. But in Democratic administrations, those numbers decline to 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively." 

If Republicans are so concerned about the national debt, they should take a long hard look in the mirror. 

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Among Donald Trump's many ignoble accomplishments is the explosive rise in the national debt under his watch. It rose to $7.8 trillion during his time in the White House. George W. Bush also saw a massive increase in the national debt. Under W's tenure, the deficit increased by 105%; sadly, he is not the biggest offender here. During Ronald Reagan's administration, the national debt increased by 186% over eight years. 

The absurdity of Republican arguments in this default fight is surpassed only by the cruelty of their demands. 

The Republican solution to the challenges our country currently face is to take away programs put in place to help people who are struggling right now.  By slashing federal spending to levels adopted in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, we could see massive cuts to programs that benefit seniors, veterans, and children, like Social Security, Medicare, and food assistance programs.  

Under the Republican plan, we could see 22% cuts to education, veterans' health care, child care, opioid treatments, and cut Medicaid for 2 million people. Cuts this size could take away food assistance from more than one million seniors and 1.2 million women, babies, and children. And finally, these cuts would take away healthcare access for 2 million people via Community Health Centers, disproportionately impacting rural areas.

These cuts would devastate White, Black, and Brown families nationwide who utilize these programs in large numbers. Take Medicare, for example; as of 2021, total Medicare enrollment was over 63 million people, with 73% of the users being white, 10% Black, 9.4 % Hispanic, and 4.4% AAPI. A cut of 22% in that budget could result in the loss of health care for many people. 

America's economy is transitioning; unemployment is at record lows, Latino and Black unemployment is near or at historic lows, wages are rising, and more people have health insurance than ever before. We are turning the page on a catastrophic global pandemic, but as should be expected, challenges remain. We need solutions here, not brinkmanship that could jeopardize the progress made.

The MAGA Republican default fight is stupidly cruel for ideological reasons and has nothing to do with economic policy. Republicans in control of the House could pass legislation thru the committee process, work across the aisle and present a plan to help American workers. Remember, these same Republicans ran in 2022, saying they would provide solutions and help to improve things. They have offered nothing of the sort. They want to cut these programs that help so many people and offer nothing to replace them. 

Worse, they are now risking our progress with brinkmanship, bravado, and not much else. Our country deserves better.

By Kristian Ramos

Kristian Ramos is a political strategist based in Washington, D.C.

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