Are Republicans Hostage Takers?

By Robert Bernstein   |   May 16, 2023

As I write this, the Republican Party is holding the entire world hostage. The immediate issue is the “debt ceiling.” The threat is very real. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the U.S. government could default on its loans. This has never happened before. The debt ceiling is about repaying money that has already been spent. It is like taking out a car loan and declaring that you don’t intend to repay it.

It could result in lost Americans jobs, higher interest rates, and increased taxes in the future. It also could also damage economies around the world, leading to other countries moving away from U.S. business and U.S. dollars as a safe investment haven. This could change the entire power structure of the world, affecting the future of the U.S.

As I wrote in my recent “Two Santas” article, this has nothing to do with actual goals of the Republican Party. It is all about political maneuvering. The Republicans claim they want to reduce “unnecessary” government spending. But they can’t name a single “unnecessary” item in the budget. They know that every item in the budget is there for a reason. And that most of those items are there because they
are popular.

More important, every item in the budget is there as a result of negotiations between the Democratic and Republican parties at the time the items were budgeted. Meaning they were already agreed upon by the Republicans. And by the “small d” democratic process.

But there is a bigger hostage being taken by the Republican Party: Threatening the very survival of the planet by refusing to allocate adequate money for solving the Climate Crisis. It will take trillions of dollars of investment in sustainable transportation, agriculture, building design, and energy to reduce carbon emissions to a survivable level. It may even take additional trillions to invest in direct carbon capture from the air to undo a century of damage that has already occurred. A lot of money. But it is like asking: What is the alternative to a high cost of living?

As with the economic threat, the problem affects billions of people around the globe. And untold billions of other living things that have no say in the Republicans’ petty games.

It is important to note the difference between hostage taking and normal politics. Normal politics is about negotiation. There is a long and perfectly acceptable history of such negotiation. When President Kennedy announced his goal to safely land people on the moon and return them, he had full control of Congress. He could have put all the big investment in Democratic districts. But he didn’t. NASA built facilities mostly in Republican or swing states like Texas, Florida, Alabama,
and California.

Roosevelt’s New Deal invested as much or more money in the South for programs such as rural electrification in places like Tennessee as in places that supported him.

This built goodwill for programs such as Social Security and Medicare that might have been a heavier lift. Sometimes such negotiations have a downside in the form of “pork barrel” projects that bring Federal money to a district with little of actual value resulting. Notably, most net Federal spending flows to Republican districts.

But the Republicans in recent years know that they cannot negotiate because they have nothing of value to trade. They have no ideas that are popular among the majority of Americans.

Hostage taking is a form of terrorism. We see such behavior in situations of asymmetrical power. The Russians held basketball star Brittney Griner hostage because they have little economic or political power. Iran did the same thing during their revolution in 1979 and China has done it on occasion. But the result is not advantageous for the hostage taker in the long run.

Hostage takers are seen as bad people to deal with in any way. No one wants to give in to a hostage taker or terrorist for the obvious reason that it would encourage future hostage taking and terrorism. The result is that countries like Iran and Russia become international pariahs, cut off from world trade and travel.

President Joe Biden is correct to state that the debt ceiling is not negotiable. In fact, questioning the debt ceiling is not even a negotiation. It is pure terrorism. The same is true regarding the Climate Crisis. We must treat the Republican Party the same way we treat any other hostage taker.  


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