The Corner

Hostages, Ctd.

Jonathan Chait won’t back off the claim that tying spending cuts to an increase in the debt ceiling is akin to hostage-taking. Now he calls my argument “insane.” His points, my responses:

1) It’s hostage-taking because Republicans are threatening not to do something they concede is necessary. But not all Republicans believe that raising the debt ceiling is necessary — even fewer of them will believe it if they, as they should, pass a bill making it clear that the government can continue to perform debt service if the ceiling is hit — and for them the spending cuts are what might make the bill worth supporting.

2) When Democrats have bargained over the debt ceiling, they have been negotiating over the ransom rather than taking a hostage themselves. On Chait’s theory Democrats were never threatening not to raise the debt ceiling when they insisted that any deficit reduction tied to it include tax increases. I don’t buy it. Democrats were implicitly threatening to block a bill that raised the debt ceiling if it had spending cuts and no tax increases. They ultimately folded on this point, but of course that was the threat. If it wasn’t, then seeking to tie spending cuts to a debt-ceiling increase isn’t a threat not to increase the debt ceiling either.

3) Mitch McConnell used the hostage metaphor himself. Yes, and he was wrong, as I said in 2011.

UPDATE: Like me, Obama supporter Clive Crook believes the debt ceiling should be an occasion to reduce the country’s long-term debt problem. Another enabler of hostage-taking!

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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