The Washington Post

Debt ceiling showdown: Assume the crash position

After a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on March 17, I declared that I was “a little freaked out over the looming crisis to raise the national debt limit.” And I explained why. “While she didn’t come right out and say it,” I wrote then, “I was left with the distinct impression that the former speaker of the House didn’t have much confidence that the new speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), has enough control over his majority to deliver the votes needed to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Unfortunately, things haven’t gotten better. Jonathan Bernstein over at the Plum Line made a declaration of his own. “Yes,” he writes, “I’m starting to get more than a little scared about the debt limit showdown.” Welcome to the club, fella.

Bernstein’s well-founded fear comes after reading a piece by Susan Davis of the National Journal. “The GOP leadership is finding it harder to get the rank and file to fall in line, in part because of a sizable, ornery freshman class,” she writes. “The Republican majority’s volatility was on full display” in two separate votes last week on Libya. But we saw this coming.

In that March meeting with Pelosi, I asked her, “How confident are you that Speaker Boehner will be able to corral the votes to actually lift the debt ceiling?”

“You gotta ask him,” she said. “You have to ask him. You know me; I’m a vote-counter. We never lost a vote. You understand. We never lost a vote. I never depended upon Republican votes, either. So, you’re going to have to ask him about the Republican votes. I just don’t know.”

As I explained then, Pelosi never brought a bill to the floor without being reasonably assured what the outcome would be. And she passed major bills without a single Republican vote. Boehner doesn’t have the luxury of passing bills without Democratic votes. Nor does he seem to have the skill to pass bills he deems important. The defeat of his Libya resolution is just the latest case in point.

Boehner’s cranky caucus disbelieves the paramount importance of the Aug. 2 default deadline. And it seems all too willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to make a point. Which means that even if the Biden deficit talks yield an agreement that reflects the balanced approach President Obama demanded yesterday, its passage is by no means assured.

If the United States were a jet and the American people were passengers and I were your flight attendant, you’d hear me calmly say, “Assume the crash position and brace for impact.”

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
This isn't your daddy's gun club
A look inside the world of Candomblé
It's in the details: Five ways to enhance your kitchen makeover
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
The rise and fall of baseball cards
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Play Videos
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
The art of tortilla-making
Play Videos
Circus nuns: These sisters are no act
How hackers can control your car from miles away
How the new credit card chip makes purchases more secure