GOP Catering to Tea Party Ignorance on Debt Ceiling

The Tea Partyers think they understand the debt ceiling issue. They don't.

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What happens when you take the certainty of an ideologue, mix in an unhealthy dose of economic illiteracy, shameless demagoguery, and bring the combustible mix to a boil on the national stage? Quite possibly national default and a new recession.

[ Check out editorial cartoons about the budget and deficit.]

The nature of this mix—and the corner into which GOP leaders have painted themselves—is neatly illustrated in the latest poll numbers from The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.

As the Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake note today:

The data suggests that those who identify as Republicans who are supportive of the tea party not only view themselves as far more educated than the average person on the current debt debate, but are also far more worried about the impact if the debt limit is increased.

More than eight in 10 tea party supporters (81 percent) said they understand “what would happen if the government does not raise the federal debt limit” — far more than the 55 percent of all respondents who said the same thing.

Three quarters of tea party supporters said that they were more concerned that raising the debt ceiling would “lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger,” while just 19 percent said they were more worried that “not raising the debt limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation’s economy.”

The message from the numbers? Tea party backers simply don’t believe that not raising the debt limit by Aug. 2 is all that big a deal — and they feel that way because they believe they understand the issue inside and out.

If a significant chunk of his House members don’t fear the consequences of a default, it’s very difficult for Boehner to make the case for the fierce urgency of now in the debt debate.

While the overwhelming number of economists—and even prominent non-economists like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who have both stated that not raising the debt ceiling is unthinkable—say that failure to raise the debt ceiling could have a host of nasty consequences for the economy, like a global financial crisis, downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, and a second recession … the Tea Party crowd has anointed itself a group of experts who know better. [ Check out political cartoons about the Tea Party.]

This is why Eric Cantor could with a (presumably) straight face argue yesterday that the GOP’s great concession in this debate was considering a debt ceiling increase at all. But sorry, our base is too wound up in its own misconceptions to allow us to do the slam dunk right thing for the county is the politics of cowardice. And it’s a brand that Cantor, who has referred to the debt ceiling crisis as a “ leverage moment”—an opportunity for the GOP to extract concessions in order to be forced to do the right thing—has played with either cold cynicism or reckless stupidity.

Then there’s Boehner, who acknowledges the debt ceiling must be raised but cloaks it in the language of Obama getting “his” rise in the debt ceiling—as if keeping the country from an economic disaster is some parochial, partisan, hobby.

No less a publication than The Economist, hardly a hotbed of socialist foment, recently called the GOP position “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.” I think that’s about right.