Just when Speaker John Boehner should be warning his members not to use the debt ceiling as a threat, he is doing exactly the opposite. Instead of reminding lawmakers that they are obligated to pay for the debts they voted to incur, he is once again waving the dull saber of default.
At a fundraiser in Idaho on Monday, Boehner repeated his old vow not to raise the debt ceiling this fall unless Republicans get an equal amount in cuts and reforms - on top of the nearly $2 trillion in cuts over a decade that they won using the same extortion tactic in 2011.
"It may be unfair, but what I'm trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices," he said. "We're going to have a whale of a fight."
It's more than "unfair" to wage this fight again; it's a reckless abdication of Boehner's responsibility to guide House Republicans away from the brink. Too many Tea Party members of the House have spread the dangerous falsehood that a default would be of little consequence, that it would merely shake up Washington a bit and cut the deficit, which is already declining.
One of them, Ted Yoho of Florida, recently said that a default would actually raise the government's credit rating.
No responsible economist or business leader agrees with that. In 2011, the credit rating of the United States declined when Republicans merely threatened not to raise the limit. If they actually refused to raise the debt ceiling, the markets would crash, interest rates would skyrocket, benefit checks and military spending would be at risk, and the fragile economic recovery would probably grind to a halt.
Boehner, who has previously said he would not allow a default to take place, should be reminding House members of the potential catastrophe instead of encouraging their worst impulses and raising their hopes that this "whale of a fight" could win them new victories.
President Barack Obama has said he will not negotiate over the debt limit, but the need for a quick vote - the Treasury said the current limit would expire in mid-October - means that negotiations will inevitably be commingled with the talks on spending for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Republicans are pushing for immediate cuts even below the levels of the sequester and seem to think they could use the debt limit to force the White House into long-term entitlement reductions.
Whatever the outcome of the 2014 budget talks, it is critical that the White House make it clear, in public and in private, that it will not give in to the same debt-ceiling blackmail, this year or any other year.
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