the national interest

Republican Debt-Ceiling Extortionists: We Are Not Extortionists

Me and my friend here are just engaging in normal haggling.

The last time Republicans used the debt ceiling to extort concessions from President Obama, in 2011, they admitted that’s what they were up to. But this time, the extortion tactics have acquired a bad enough odor that they at least feel the need to present themselves as legitimate businessmen rather than extortionists. Speaker Boehner’s office has circulated a “fact sheet” arguing that it’s historically normal to connect the debt ceiling to budget deals.

Today, Boehner’s spokesman builds on that message to insist that his boss is no different than any other powerful man, like a senator, or a president:

No one is threatening to default,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner. “The president only uses these scare tactics to avoid having to show the courage needed to deal with our coming debt crisis. Every major deficit deal in the last 30 years has been tied to a debt limit increase, and this time should be no different.”

I spot two glaring factual errors and one logical fallacy. Error No. 1: As Richard Kogan points out, since the Reagan administration began, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 45 times. Only seven of those times were attached to significant budget legislation. Basically, when Congress does a budget deal, it usually attaches a debt-ceiling hike onto it. But it doesn’t make the debt-ceiling hike contingent on the deal.

Error No. 2: Boehner is not proposing a “deal,” as in a deal involving the swapping of concessions. Indeed, all the previous agreements he cites involved the two sides making mutually agreeable policy bargains. None of them, save the 2011 debt-ceiling ransom, involved Congress threatening debt default in order to extract concessions. Boehner isn’t looking for a deal, except in the sense that Richie Aprile was looking for a deal with Beansie to share the profits from his restaurant:

On top of these factual errors is the logical fallacy. Assume Boehner’s facts here are true: “Every major deficit deal in the last 30 years has been tied to a debt limit increase, and this time should be no different.” Let’s map out Buck’s argument like we used to do in philosophy class:

  1. If there is a major budget deal, there is a debt-ceiling hike.
  2. There is no major budget deal.
  3. Therefore, there should be no debt-ceiling hike.

This is like arguing, “Every time we have Thanksgiving, we eat dinner, so this time should be no different. If we eat dinner tonight, it should be Thanksgiving.”

Of course, the thing about extortionists is that they don’t really care much when you correct their factual and logical mistakes.

GOP Extortionists: We Are Not Extortionists