Why Debt Ceiling Hardball Worked  

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 23 2013 1:27 PM

Why Debt Ceiling Hardball Worked  

The House of Representatives just voted to raise the debt ceiling and allow the government to keep financing itself for several more months. To avoid the appearance of total capitulation, there are some fig leaves, here but basically they capitulated. Hardball by the Obama administration worked. Way back in January 2011, I predicted that the Obama administration could easily win that round of the debt-ceiling standoff by simply refusing to negotiate, and while the White House didn't take my advice then, they executed the strategy brilliantly this month.

Some will say that the moral of the story is that hardball works. And to an extent that's true. But it's worth noting that this issue had some peculiar features.

Advertisement

As I wrote back then, the main feature of the debt ceiling issue is was that "key House Republicans such as Paul Ryan and John Boehner also favor raising the debt ceiling." Once that fact is out in the open, the White House just has to say that given the existing agreement on raising the debt ceiling, the right thing to do is raise the debt ceiling. That's a contrast from, say, raising the eligibility age for Medicare. It's pretty clear that the Obama administration is willing to do this, but they don't favor it. That's when you negotiate. There may be other things that Republicans don't favor but are willing to do that they could swap for the things Obama doesn't favor but is willing to do. The debt ceiling, however, was like running into a room with a bomb strapped to your chest and threatening to blow it up. A potent threat in the hands of someone who's genuinely suicidal, but House Republicans have never truly believed that slamming into the debt ceiling would be better than lifting it.

Hardball tactics may work for the White House on sequestration (where at least some Republicans very sincerely want to spare the Pentagon) but are probably much less effective in a basic appropriations fight. Many Republicans really don't care much about the domestic discretionary functions of government and would be perfectly happy to see them put on hiatus for a week or two.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 14 2014 11:44 PM A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?