Discover more from Letters from an American
May 19, 2023
Yesterday the far-right House Freedom Caucus called for an end to any discussions of raising the debt ceiling until the Senate passes its bill calling for extreme budget cuts. Today, former president Trump announced on his social media channel that “REPUBLICANS SHOULD NOT MAKE A DEAL ON THE DEBT CEILING UNLESS THEY GET EVERYTHING THEY WANT (Including the ‘kitchen sink’).” THAT’S THE WAY THE DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS DEALT WITH US. DO NOT FOLD!!!”
(In reality, Congress raised the debt ceiling without conditions three times when Trump was president as Trump added an astonishing almost $7.8 trillion to the national debt, much of it thanks to his tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations before the coronavirus pandemic hit.)
Immediately after Trump’s demand, the Republicans walked away from negotiations over the budget that they are demanding before they will vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Then, hours later, they came back to the table.
Meanwhile, the headline in the Washington Post read: “World watches in disbelief and horror as U.S. nears possible default.” The story by Rachel Siegel and Jeff Stein revealed that at the meeting of the G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, this week, the finance ministers for the G7—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—have been pulling U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen aside to ask her what is going to happen.
“Around the world,” Siegel and Stein write, “experts have been watching in disbelief as the U.S. flirts with its first default, fearful of the potential international economic ramifications—and astonished by the global superpower’s brush with self-sabotage.”
“[T]he debate over the debt ceiling is unnerving,” Michal Baranowski, managing director of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. told Siegel and Stein. “We really need the U.S. as a strong leader in world affairs during this time of deep global instability. I worry that the debt ceiling debate burns up valuable political oxygen that I would rather the U.S. spend for leadership abroad. It makes the U.S. look inward-looking, at best.”
Time is running out for Congress to pass a measure that will raise the debt ceiling.
Meanwhile, today at the G7 meeting—which Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky will attend—leaders announced a new slate of sanctions on more than 300 targets designed to block workarounds that have permitted Russia to continue its war against Ukraine. “Today’s actions will further tighten the vise on [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s ability to wage his barbaric invasion and will advance our global efforts to cut off Russian attempts to evade sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Yellen said in a statement.
In retaliation, Russia announced that it would not allow consular access to Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in March on false charges of espionage. It also banned a somewhat random list of 500 Americans from entering Russia, including former president Barack Obama, comedian Stephen Colbert, 45 members of the House of Representatives, former ambassadors to Russia, various journalists, and me (!), accusing us of being hostile to Russia.
The statement also aligned Putin with far-right Republicans who back Trump, blaming those on the list for being “directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called ‘storm of the Capitol.’” One of those banned was Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who killed Ashley Babbitt as she attempted to break into the chamber of the House of Representatives, where more than 60 representatives and staffers were holed up, on January 6, 2021.
Also today, Washington, D.C., police lieutenant Shane Lamond was arrested on charges that he warned Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, that he was about to be arrested just before January 6, 2021, and then lied about it to investigators. As head of the department’s intelligence unit, Lamond monitored extremist groups but appeared to support the Proud Boys. “Of course I can’t say it officially,” Lamond told Tarrio in a message on January 8, “but personally I support you all and don’t want to see your group’s name or reputation dragged through the mud.”
The Republicans’ threat to blow up the U.S. economy—and, with it, the global economy—comes at a time when the economy is, in fact, quite strong and President Biden’s measures have significantly reduced the deficit after Republican tax cuts exploded it. Destroying the economy on Biden’s watch would undoubtedly help to hamstring his reelection campaign. It would also kill popular support for his return to a government that supports ordinary Americans rather than concentrating wealth at the top of the economy, as Republicans insist—contrary to economic studies—will expand the economy and benefit everyone.
Their attack on the economy is more than that, though: it is an attack on the nation’s global standing. Yesterday, Christopher Chivvis, the director of the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote that the debt ceiling crisis brings into question “how serious Washington is about leading the world…. In an era of global strategic competition, the United States will be entering the ring with one hand tied behind its back if its leaders can’t make progress on their domestic disagreements and moderate vicious political polarization.”
“Foreign leaders will doubt American reliability more and more, hurting Washington’s relationships with the very countries whose loyalty it’s competing for with Beijing,” he wrote, as other countries doubt that the U.S. can commit to a program for longer than a single administration. Moreover, the crisis will hurt the power of the dollar, whose domination of the international monetary system has brought the U.S. extraordinary advantages.
“Washington’s dysfunction also helps its autocratic adversaries in the global contest over ideology,” Chivvis notes.