U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) wants everyone to know she’s against big federal spending. That’s why she voted against raising the debt ceiling last week, she says.
But what her “no” vote actually means is she’s unwilling to pay the United States’ debts, keep the federal government running and prevent a potential worldwide economic catastrophe.
And Lummis says she’ll keep voting no, regardless of whether it means the government defaults on its debt — something that has never happened in the nation’s history.
It’s partisan politics at its worst. Playing games with the debt limit is dangerous and irresponsible. The possibility of default sent stocks tumbling by 18% in 2011, after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S.’s credit rating.
“Raising the debt ceiling doesn’t authorize additional spending of taxpayer dollars,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explained in a September Wall Street Journal op-ed. Instead, it’s about America keeping its word and honoring the commitments we’ve already made — including the very expensive commitments Lummis’ party rammed through under the previous administration.
If a deal on a new debt limit fails, Yellen wrote, millions of Americans could be strapped for cash in a matter of days.
“Nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security checks for a time,” she warned. “Troops could go unpaid. Millions of families who rely on the monthly child tax credit could see delays.”
The White House Council of Economic Advisers, meanwhile, said a U.S. default “would send shock waves through global financial markets and likely cause credit markets worldwide to freeze up and stock markets to plunge. Employers around the world would likely have to begin laying off workers.”
In our turbulent global economy, there is one safe haven, one institution in which investors can and do place absolute faith — the U.S. government. Lend it money and you will be repaid. That certainty underpins business and finance across the globe, and it’s no small part of what makes the U.S. a global superpower.
Those are the stakes of our good senator’s twisted game of political chicken — global economic chaos and the value of our nation’s word of honor. It’s a “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” brand of politics.
Lummis, a three-term congresswoman who’s nearly a year into her first senatorial term, knows this. She also served two terms as Wyoming state treasurer.
What Lummis posted on Facebook last month is telling: “I wasn’t in the office last time we had this fight [in 2019], but I would have voted no then too. Raising the debt ceiling is just another attempt to kick the can down the road instead of fixing our spending problem.”
I doubt she would have dared to cast a “no” vote on the bipartisan measure that provided a two-year debt limit increase that technically expired in July. That bill was supported by then-President Donald Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Would she actually have bucked both party leaders?
Lummis has been inconsistent on this issue, and has certainly done her share of can-kicking whenever her party has asked her to. She told Wyoming Public Radio in 2012 that she regretted her “yes” vote a year earlier and would vote no on future increases. She then voted for a temporary debt limit suspension in 2013.
Why? Because the GOP was getting hammered for shutting down the government and had to show a unified front and act fast.
The 2013 bill was remarkably similar to the measure Congress passed Thursday, when now-Senate Minority Leader McConnell caved in and allowed the Treasury to borrow up to $480 billion — enough to keep the government afloat until Dec. 3. He arranged for 10 other Republicans to join him, ending his party’s filibuster. Then the GOP senators all voted no, leaving the bill to be passed with a simple Democratic majority.
One of those 10 Republicans was Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and third in the GOP hierarchy in the chamber. Even though he was just following McConnell’s lead, I’ll give Barrasso credit for moving the bill forward.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), who succeeded Lummis, joined every GOP House member in voting against a bill last month to fund the government through December, raise the debt ceiling and provide relief for Afghan refugees and victims of natural disasters. It fell to Democrats alone to support the measure.
The House is set to vote on the Senate debt limit bill today [Oct. 12]. There’s no reason to expect Cheney, who’s locked in an intense fight back home to retain her seat, to suddenly join the majority.
When the extension expires in two months, it will set off another contentious debate between McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York). McConnell acquiesced on the short-term fix, but only after President Joe Biden publicly suggested that Senate Democrats might change the filibuster rule and allow for a simple majority vote.
That’s the big hammer Democrats have at their disposal, because any carve-outs to the filibuster rule could lead to others and seriously damage McConnell’s power in the Senate.
The minority leader wants to force Democrats to put the debt limit extension in their “Build Back Better Bill,” the proposed $3.5 trillion social infrastructure bill at the heart of Biden’s agenda.
Democrats won’t do it, because they know the GOP will surely kill the entire thing. If authority to raise the debt ceiling dies with the rest of the package, it would create a hell of a mess.
This is a fight that shouldn’t even happen. The Treasury Department says Congress has acted 78 times since 1960 to either permanently raise, temporarily extend or revise the debt limit.
Democrats joined Republicans to raise the debt ceiling three times in four years during Trump’s single term.
McConnell expressed a far different attitude in 2019, when he said, “Well, we raised the debt ceiling because America can’t default. I mean that would be a disaster.”
But now a Democrat is in the White House, and McConnell’s mission is to sabotage Biden’s administration.
Lummis, Barrasso and Cheney shouldn’t be complicit in holding America’s — and the world’s — economy hostage. But they have their marching orders.
Isn’t it amazing how Republican lawmakers suddenly become deficit hawks whenever Democrats are in charge? These same officials didn’t give a hoot about spending under Trump. The national debt grew by nearly $7.8 trillion during his term, and Wyoming’s delegation aided and abetted him.
In Trump, Lummis hitched her political wagon to a guy who spent money like crazy. Now, preaching thrift, she’s threatening to blow up the economy on the off chance of pinning the wreckage on the Democrats.
Let’s hope Lummis prioritizes her obligation to the full faith and credit of the United States over her loyalty to a failed former president before it’s too late.