Bill Cosby used to do a routine about his shop teacher’s effort to figure out who had done something bad. No one would confess, so the shop teacher started explaining that the action in question proved the culprit had a bad mother. Finally one outraged kid blurted out, “I didn’t do it, and stop talking about my mother!”
On Tuesday, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said that one of the reasons for the the company’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating was that some of our politicians had openly expressed a willingness to let the country default on Treasury bonds at least for a short time.
Like the boy who didn’t want his mother talked about, several Republican politicians quickly came forward to deny that they’d said what they’d said, even though they hadn’t been named. Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo has assembled an interesting short article about who said what.
To be clear, most Republicans did realize that not raising the debt ceiling would have been a disaster for the U.S. Even those dismissing the risk of default were for the most part arguing that defaulting for a few days wouldn’t be so bad. They knew they were going to free the hostage eventually, after they got what they wanted in the way of ransom.
But there were also hopelessly confused people, who apparently have no idea at all what they’re talking about, who didn’t view refusing to raise the debt ceiling just as a temporary bargaining chip but actually favored not raising it as a matter of policy. During Thursday’s candidates’ debate in Iowa, Michele Bachmann made it clear that she was still opposed to raising the debt ceiling and suggested incoherently that S&P’s downgrade of Treasury bonds was proof she’d been right. A few weeks earlier, on July 11, Bachmann insisted that she wasn’t worried about a default because she’d instead support “stop-gap spending measures to keep the government running.” But stop-gap spending measures are used to authorize more spending to keep the government operating when the budget hasn’t been passed. They obviously can’t solve the problem of not enough revenue coming in. It’s pretty scary that a member of Congress doesn’t know this.
It probably bears repeating that right-wing politicians who claim that we don’t have a revenue problem are simply wrong as a matter of basic fact. U.S. taxes currently take the smallest percentage of GDP of my lifetime, and I’m far from being a young man. I wonder how many people realized that if we even just raised that percentage to the level in Canada — well down the list of tax rates among developed countries — we wouldn’t have a deficit at all.