The GOP’s Debt Ceiling Virtue Signals
Perhaps the strangest and most frustrating aspect of the current debt ceiling struggle is that most Republicans don’t really want to stop Democrats from raising the debt ceiling. They are clearly hoping to give new weight to the same old “tax and spend” accusations that GOP politicians have long used against their rivals. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) And his Conservative colleagues are not Actually nihilistic enough to want the country to fail. They just want to make life difficult for Democrats.
“I mean, I’m not going to be a complete asshole about this,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said Tuesday, explaining the strategy. “But I’m going to give them tough votes.”
It’s an open admission that the Republican obstruction of a debt ceiling hike is for show. It is a signal of virtue, and it is dangerous.
Conservatives often use “virtue signaling” as a term of derision, a way to suggest that progressives are more interested in being. seen take the right positions than to really do anything. But signage is actually a two-party tactic. Right now, Republicans are signaling to their constituents that they are strongly against increasing the national debt – even though they are partly responsible for our need to raise the ceiling. The government is still borrowing money to cover the cost of former President Donald Trump’s big tax cuts in 2017.
Such ostentatious hypocrisy can be frustrating, but it is often relatively harmless. And while obstructions are also heinous, they are generally intelligible in terms of political outcomes. In the case of the debt ceiling, however, pairing the signal of fiscal virtue with filibuster increases the risk of an outcome – default – that even obsessives don’t seem to want.
Republicans could have their cake and eat it too by dropping the filibuster (and its requirement for qualified majority voting) and opposing raising the debt ceiling on a straight-line vote, which could then be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. In an age of perpetual obstruction, however, GOP leaders seem to believe that only a maximum manifestation of opposition will suffice. They may think so only to signal their virtue, but the consequences could be far too real.