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The Non-Negotiator


In my latest Bloomberg column I argued that Republicans should pair an increase in the debt ceiling with spending cuts, and of course rejected the idea that passing such legislation through the House amounted to taking the economy hostage. Jonathan Chait, defending the hostage metaphor and thus the defensibility of various hare-brained schemes to avoid negotiating with Republicans, raises several objections to what he sees as my “sophistry.” I’ll tackle the main ones here.

First: My argument would work just as well for liberal Democrats, giving them the power to pair a debt-ceiling increase with a tax increase under a Republican president. Sure: I’d object to that course of action because tax increases are a bad idea, not because passing the legislation would be akin to terrorism.

Second: My comment that “[f]or Democrats to say that no conditions should be attached to the bill is to attach a condition” is meaningless, according to Chait. The point I’m making here is pretty simple: If the Republican House passes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending, and Democratic objections to the spending cuts prevent a bill from becoming law, it won’t be possible to attribute the failure to raise the debt ceiling solely to the Republicans. But even if Chait can’t see this, surely he can see that it would be true if Democrats were to say that they would support a debt-ceiling increase tied to both spending cuts and tax increases—which was the position they took during the 2011 negotiations, to no protests from Chait or anyone else that they too were threatening a hostage.

As I said in my column, there are plenty of ways both parties can act to minimize the economic risks of a failed negotiation. House Republicans should pass a bill through their chamber allowing the Treasury to pay debt service, for one thing. On the Democratic side, no longer likening the other side to criminals would be helpful.