None of this is to suggest that playing political chicken over the debt ceiling is smart. It’s a little like playing catch with sharp knives — if you’re practiced at it and pay attention, nobody gets hurt. As the White House has warned Republicans, a federal default — something that has never happened — could push the economy into recession or worse. The GOP’s financial “blob”—former Republican Treasury secretaries—have been warning McConnell and other party leaders that the economy might topple off a cliff if the ceiling goes unrepaired. But as Reuters reported a week ago, investors are betting that an increase or suspension of the debt ceiling is in the offing. The economic sky isn’t cloudless, but neither is it falling.
Properly vetted, the current round of debt-ceiling “brinksmanship” isn’t brinksmanship at all. The Democrats know that the Republicans know that they know how vigorously the entire debt-ceiling apparatus can be stressed before the springs and rivets start popping out. As POLITICO Chief Economic Correspondent Ben White put it succinctly in a tweet Wednesday morning, “We are not going to breach the debt limit and default. Simply no way Dems will ultimately allow that kind of a catastrophically unthinkable own-goal to happen heading into midterms.”
Donald Trump conveyed an unusually honest sentiment this morning in one of his “Save America” fundraising emails to explain why congressional Republicans are playing showdown with their Democratic colleagues. “The only powerful tool that Republicans have to negotiate with is the Debt Ceiling, and they would be both foolish and unpatriotic not to use it now,” Trump wrote, using his best art-of-the-deal voice. “Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede.”