Republicans, who have newly taken control of the House of Representatives, say that they cannot abide runaway spending and must rein it in. This deep concern appears episodic. When Donald Trump was president, the debt ceiling was increased three times with Republican support, and the national debt rose by $8trn over his term ($3.2trn of which came before covid-induced spending began in 2020). Those increases were not particularly contentious, and the White House wishes the same for this one. “Raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos,” Mr Biden’s press secretary said in a statement released on January 20th.
But it may not be so simple. Republicans are unlikely to let their leverage over Mr Biden lapse. Kevin McCarthy squeaked into his position of Republican speaker of the House by promising many concessions to hardliners, including pledging extreme brinkmanship over the debt ceiling. Mr McCarthy has vowed to secure spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit, and pledged to put the country on the path to a balanced budget in a decade. As part of his bargain to attain power, the beleaguered speaker also had to allow a parliamentary manoeuvre that would make his own removal easier. Mr McCarthy may not be able to keep his promises, in which case his own party could end his speakership in its first year.
This is forcing financiers, lawyers and officials to focus on the unthinkable. The starting point of such contingency planning is that a sovereign default would be cataclysmic: in all likelihood stocks would plunge, borrowing costs would soar, growth would suffer and the dollar’s status as the world’s dominant currency would be shaken. Any way to avoid this series of disasters merits attention. The problem, unfortunately, is that each proposed workaround has severe—and quite possibly unworkable—drawbacks.
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Most games of chicken do not have trillion-dollar stakes. But such a spectacle is common in America https://t.co/18TkzGkAnt
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) January 23, 2023