Republicans think you’re stupid

Sen. Mitch McConnell has been in the U.S. Senate a long time. He’s the minority leader, and he has been Senate president when Republicans held the majority. I assume he knows fundamental principles of how the U.S. government works. So when he says, “By demanding the power to raise the debt limit whenever he wants by as much as he wants, [President Obama] showed what he’s really after is assuming unprecedented power to spend taxpayer dollars without any limit,” McConnell knows he is spouting bullshit. He knows that President Obama can’t spend a dime that’s not authorized by Congress. He knows that raising the debt ceiling is necessary to pay obligations already made by Congress.

If he knows better, and he must, why would McConnell say something so ludicrous? Because he thinks you’re stupid. He thinks that the American public doesn’t understand that all federal spending originates in Congress. He thinks he can blow smoke about the debt ceiling and most people won’t know better.

Sadly, he’s probably right. If the American people understood what recent debt ceiling fights have actually been about, not a single congressional Republican would have been re-elected to office last month after last year’s debt-ceiling fiasco. The debt ceiling is a self-imposed restraint that dates back nearly a century. Most nations don’t operate that way, and now we know why. For most of that hundred years, raising the debt ceiling when necessary was uncontroversial because Congress realized that the decision to spend the money had already been made and the vote to increase the debt ceiling was simply a vote to honor our obligations and ensure the government had the money to pay its creditors.

Then a band of Tea Party Republicans took over the House in 2011, and they decided that they would use the debt ceiling to hold the nation hostage. If they didn’t get the specific spending cuts they wanted, but didn’t have the votes to impose, then they wouldn’t vote to increase the debt ceiling. Failure to do so, they knew, would put the nation into default on its debts, plunge the global economy into chaos and drastically increase future borrowing costs. They. Did. Not. Care.

We survived that manufactured crisis last year. Barely. It did lead to the historic downgrading of our national credit rating, which increased the deficit. And the uncertainty stalled the economy, nearly pushing it back into recession. But a deal was worked out to get through the election without needing another vote. Now, though, the time is coming when another vote will be needed, and House Republicans are promising once again to hold the nation’s full faith and credit hostage to their demands.

President Obama, wisely, is having none of it. He wants to make permanent the arrangement McConnell cobbled together to resolve the issue last time: The president would have the authority to raise the debt ceiling when needed. Congress could vote to block, but would have to have a two-thirds majority to successfully overcome a presidential veto. So, unless two-thirds of both houses of Congress goes insane, the nation’s credit would remain safe.

Rather than debating this issue on the merits — or lack thereof — of their positions, Republicans like McConnell are trying to paint this as a power grab by the president so he can spend more money. They know the president can’s spend any money Congress doesn’t authorize, but they’re hoping you don’t.

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