James Surowiecki at The New Yorker on the debt ceiling:
That may be why all the deals that have been taken seriously this season rely much more heavily on spending cuts than on tax increases: the deals represent Republican priorities, because the Republicans seem to be more willing than the Democrats to let the country default.
This insanity must end. Republicans have lost touch with reality at this point, which is the only possible explanation for a willingness to throw the nation, and likely most of the world's financial markets, back into the turmoil we've just started to climb out of.
The outright disregard for those most at the mercy of the economy is a perfect example of how out of touch the Republican party has become. Take, for example, this recent study on the wealth gap between racial classes before and after the recession:
The recession, arguably triggered by cumulative deregulation of the banking industry and reduced government oversight, both core tenants of conservatism, destroyed the accumulated household wealth of non-whites. While the gap prior to the recession wasn't exactly something to be proud of as a nation, it certainly isn't worth triggering another event that would cause further deterioration.
Mr. Surowiecki goes on to explain the origins of the debt ceiling, and how the practice itself places conflicting laws in front of our nation's Chief Executive:
If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, we’ll face an absurd scenario in which Congress will have ordered the President to execute two laws that are flatly at odds with each other. If he obeys the debt ceiling, he cannot spend the money that Congress has told him to spend, which is why most government functions will be shut down. Yet if he spends the money as Congress has authorized him to he’ll end up violating the debt ceiling.
The entire situation is rather nicely represented in Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's debt-ceiling plan:
Under McConnell's Plan B, the onus would be on President Obama to request a debt-ceiling increase from Congress -- and, along with that, propose spending cuts, in three separate sets of votes. The vital catch is that Congress would vote each time on a resolution to disapprove of the debt-ceiling request. That means Congress would have to muster a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto and prevent the increase.
So, there it is: The Republicans are simply concerned about their political position, and their credibility in the eyes of their most vocal constituents. It's a good thing their most influential supporters can afford to bankroll their campaigns, as illustrated by the chart above.