By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The New York Times engages in some fanciful pretending about the debt limit

Why won’t Washington do something? Illustration (cc) 2010 via 2di7 & titanio44.

Oh, my goodness, what has The New York Times done now? You know, I could write pieces like this all the time, but it would quickly get boring — for me and for you. Sometimes, though, the Times gives us such a perfect example of willful ignorance (Jay Rosen calls it “the production of innocence”) that it has to be called out.

The headline on the story leading the Times’ homepage right now is “As Debt Limit Threat Looms, Wall Street and Washington Have Only Rough Plans.” I’m posting an image of it just in case an editor lurches into consciousness and changes it, which has been known to happen.

The lead is just as bad:

With days to go before the United States bumps up against a technical limit on how much debt it can issue, Wall Street analysts and political prognosticators are warning that a perennial source of partisan brinkmanship could finally tip into outright catastrophe in 2023.

The headline treats the debt limit as though it were an asteroid hurtling toward earth, without any human agency. The lead has a somewhat different emphasis, pretending that the crisis is the subject of a legitimate debate between Republicans and Democrats. In fact, as we all know, neither is the case. Rather, this is a phony crisis sparked by radical House Republicans (that is to say, all of them, or most of them, anyway) who refuse to cover the country’s debt for goods and services we’ve already paid for.

It is a deeply phony, cynical maneuver that comes up whenever there’s a Democratic president and at least one branch of Congress is under Republican control. The Republicans don’t do this when there’s a Republican president, even though Donald Trump, George W. Bush and their predecessors engaged in a lot more deficit spending than Democratic presidents. Nor do Democrats do this when there’s a Republican president because, whatever the Democrats’ flaws, they are fundamentally a party that governs in good faith.

The central point of the story, written by Jeanna Smialek and Joe Rennison, is that Wall Street and the Treasury Department could do more to defuse the debt bomb that’s about to be detonated. There’s nary a hint, though, that such a disaster would be inconceivable if we had two functioning political parties rather than one normal party — and one that’s run entirely off the rails.

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  1. I don’t understand why the debt ceiling is constitutional. It seems to directly contradict “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, shall not be questioned.” (14th Amendment section 4). There are probably 5 SCOTUS Justices who can explain to me why the amendment doesn’t say what it clearly does say.

  2. cynthiastead

    DK – back in 2018, I got a grant to set up a long term homeless PSH shelter in West Dennis. Ben Carson sent $87,000 from HUD for initial costs and DHCD has provided ongoing funding.

    The grant came from unexpended FY 2015 funds.

    How much unexpended money is floating around out there, exactly? Maybe we should use that to pay those bills BEFORE raising the debt ceiling again?


  3. Ben Starr

    I think characterization as a “strategy” is apt but not sure “deeply phony” or “cynical” are such. Republicans don’t use the debt limit issue with Republican presidents because they have other simpler channels with which to negotiate. It is simply a tool in which to negotiate and Democrats employ plenty of their own. Do you not see the student debt waiver as similarly outside the spirit of the rules?

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