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The Democrats’ Disastrous Debt Deal

As they congratulate themselves for making a budget-cutting debt-ceiling deal with congressional Republicans, the Democrats are hoping no one will notice that they surrendered unnecessarily both on policies and principle. Once again, the bogus myth of bipartisanship has been invoked at the American people’s expense.

AUSTIN – There is an odious American political mythology concerning bipartisanship, according to which bitter adversaries, scarred by battle, find common ground, join hands, and stroll off together into the sunset. It is mostly hokum. Ulysses S. Grant did not reconcile with Robert E. Lee after Appomattox. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not reconcile with Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, nor John F. Kennedy with Richard Nixon after the 1960 election. One does hear sugary reminiscences of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill swapping blarney. But the real O’Neill fought Reagan – on principle and on politics – with everything he had.

In the spirit of the myth, US President Joe Biden recently praised Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy after committing an appalling act of political surrender – on tax enforcement, social programs, student debt, the environment, and more. Worst of all, Biden abandoned the principle that the debt ceiling should not obstruct progressive priorities in the future. But everything is all right, we are told, because Biden and McCarthy worked things out together. They even still like each other – or so Biden claims.

But the White House and the Treasury had at least three plausibly legal, wholly constitutional ways to defuse the supposed crisis without involving McCarthy and his increasingly unhinged Republican caucus. The administration could have minted a high-value platinum coin and deposited it at the Federal Reserve; resorted to consol bonds (which never mature); or issued premium bonds. Instead, they emerged from their trenches, waved a white flag, and bargained away the keys to their fortress – all so that the besieging army would go away for a couple of years. Worse, like everyone else who was watching, the Democrats knew that the Republican troops were divided and mutinous. Biden demonstrated that when he told them, correctly, to get lost when they first approached.

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