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During their rare moments of candor, Republicans leaders agree with President Obama that failing to raise the U.S. debt ceiling would be "catastrophic." Two years ago, Speaker John Boehner acknowledged "that would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy." Sen. Lindsey Graham concurred, warning that not lifting the debt limit would trigger "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world." As failed GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan put it simply, "you can't not raise the debt ceiling."

Yet for the second time in less than two years, the GOP leadership is once again threatening to do just that. And just as sad, recent polling shows a majority of Americans once again seem to agree.

That disturbing nugget was largely buried in the wave of surveys showing disdain for Republican handling of the "fiscal cliff" deadlock. As the final question of a CBS News poll released on December 18, 2012 revealed 68 percent of respondents said the debt ceiling should not be raised:

(Continue reading below the fold.)

Congress will soon decide whether or not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which is the legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow to pay for the budget deficit. Some people say the debt ceiling should be raised, because otherwise the country could default on its loans, causing severe problems for the U.S. economy. Other people say the debt ceiling should not be raised because the country owes too much money already, and raising it will cause long term economic problems. In general, do you think Congress should or should not raise the federal debt ceiling?

That result is both frightening and ironic. After all, CBS headlined its findings with "most predict 'major problems' if 'fiscal cliff' isn't averted," challenges which would pale in comparison to the economic calamity following a first-ever default. More depressing still, the results suggest a "Flowers for Algernon" moment in which Americans are unlearning the lessons of the last Republican debt ceiling hostage taking in the summer of 2011.

As the chart of CBS polling data above shows, two years ago large majorities (63 percent in April 2011, 69 percent that June) of Americans were against raising the debt ceiling. But as the crisis reached a boiling point—and the public learned more about the dire global consequences of a U.S. default—Americans began to back away from the rhetorical brink. On July 18, 2011, about two weeks before the sequestration deal that ended the impasse, a CBS survey showed that "support for debt ceiling increase doubles." Pew Research reported a similar dynamic. Its own poll released that same day found that by a 40 to 39 percent margin, the public was "split evenly on urgency of debt limit debate."

It was that July 2011 Pew survey which produced what Ezra Klein of the Washington Post called, "the scariest debt-ceiling poll I've seen."

Klein's fright was well-founded. Already worried about a default that would produce a "global financial panic that makes 2008 look like a warm-up," he lamented "a plurality of independents and a majority of Republicans think everything will be just dandy if we blow through Aug. 2 without raising the debt ceiling. Terrific."

And now even that meager process appears to reversing. In the spring of 2011 GOP all-stars like freshman Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin mocked such "doomsday predictions," "outright blatant lies" and "scare tactics." But as the debt ceiling deadline loomed on August 2, 2011, about half of American came to understand the disaster certain to unfold if the United States did not pay its bills on time. As I noted that June:

A new analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center concluded that failure to boost the debt ceiling by the August drop-dead window would force the U.S. Treasury to immediately slash spending by 44%. As The Hill reported, "On an annualized basis, the cut in spending alone is a 10 percent cut in GDP, BPC scholar Jay Powell told reporters."
Even a brief default, former McCain economic adviser Mark Zandi explained to TPM, would be cataclysmic:
If Congress fails to raise the national debt limit by early August, the Obama Treasury Department will have to choose between defaulting on obligations to the country's creditors--triggering higher interest rates and perhaps damaging the country's credit rating for months and years to come--or freezing outlays to contractors, entitlement beneficiaries and others who are also expecting prompt payment as well. In either case, the macroeconomic impact will be staggering, according to Zandi.
Now, thanks in large part to Republicans grandstanding and misinformation, a dangerous new veil of confusion is once again enveloping the American people. (It should be noted that Americans' confusion is even more profound than the recent CBS numbers show; other polls show that the public rejects cuts to entitlements and wants federal spending increased in most areas of the budget.) Once again, almost 70 percent believe the debt ceiling, the borrowing authority which must be raised, should not be increased. Or to put the Party of Lincoln's strategy another way, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and that's their target market.

If you need a reminder about what will actually transpire if the United States breaches the debt ceiling, Ezra Klein has a helpful—and horrifying—one here.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The phrasing of the poll question is unhelpful (12+ / 0-)
    Congress will soon decide whether or not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which is the legal limit on how much the federal government can borrow to pay for the budget deficit.
    First - this invites conflation of the deficit, yearly revenues less yearly spening.
    Second, this sounds so different from saying "Congress will soon be asked to extend the nation's credit limit to pay for money it has already spent ..."

    Then the follow-up equivocation invites confusion:

    Some people say the debt ceiling should be raised, because otherwise the country could default on its loans, causing severe problems for the U.S. economy.
    How's about - "raise it so we pay for what we've already spent"
    Other people say the debt ceiling should not be raised because the country owes too much money already, and raising it will cause long term economic problems.
    You know right there that this question just fell into the black-hole of obfuscation. An embrace of flat-earther vs. science. The objections are not relevant - but I bet they will be the same nonsense we hear spouted on the Sunday shows.
    We have spennt the money, we have appropriations going forward. There is no other choice than to raaise it.

    And, not rasing the debt ceiling is extremely dangerous.

    Perhaps PPP will do the nation a favor and ask the right question, smartly, in a forthcoming poll.

    Something like:

    You have a choice between raising the debt ceiling and continuing a recovery or not raising the debt ceiling and seeing interest rates, unemployment and financial hardship all sky-rocket - which do you choose:
    A - Raise the Debt Ceiling
    B - Don't Raise the Debt Ceiling

    Because, ye gods, that CBS poll data is simply horrible.

  •  This poll shows (5+ / 0-)

    in a nutshell why the President cannot always lead as folks here think he should. It was FDR who said that a leader need to be out in front of the people...but not too far out in front.

    "Fascism is attracting the dregs of humanity- people with a slovenly biography - sadists, mental freaks, traitors." - ILYA EHRENBURG

    by durrati on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 03:53:48 PM PST

    •  But FDR Spent His Entire Political Career Giving (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lostinamerica

      regular fireside chats and speeches and more to inform and motivate voters, starting as Governor in 1929. He gave 30 as President.

      He put in a hell of a lot of effort to pull the people up closer to where he was on many issues and to get them to pressure their reps.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 04:43:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The President (5+ / 0-)

        gives weekly "chats" on Saturdays on the tubes which are not as widely consumed: I don't know what the radio markets are like today, but in the 1930's it was bigger than television.

        But the real difference in the thirties was that you had the unions and the socialists and the CPUSA regularly in the streets. And, of course you did not have a constant rotation of vapid talking heads (Father Coughlin excepted) striving to negate his every word. Not to mention FDR had huge Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House along with a handful of compliant Republicans in each.

        The challenges faced by this president, while perhaps not as vast as those faced by FDR, are made more difficult to overcome by obstacles he didn't have to face.

        "Fascism is attracting the dregs of humanity- people with a slovenly biography - sadists, mental freaks, traitors." - ILYA EHRENBURG

        by durrati on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 05:42:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I was worried about this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    reflectionsv37, blueness

    ...but now I realize it's not a problem at all. They'll run the kabuki out a bit (maybe two weeks) and try to get Obama to make concessions by ganging it with the Sequestered cuts (which is why I am against combining the two unrelated issues).

    Our Overlords, however, have made it clear they will not allow the Republican imbeciles to destroy the United States economy just yet.

    As for the opinions of polled Americans, it's not like they have a clue how money or economics work at the Federal level.

    Wasn't there some octopus that was making accurate predictions in the news? They should poll him.



    Denial is a drug.

    by Pluto on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 04:14:00 PM PST

  •  Utterly depressing! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, SoCalSal

    The depressing part is that this pretty much conclusively proves a majority of the US population are some of the most ignorant people on the planet.

    Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

    by reflectionsv37 on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 04:23:43 PM PST

  •  Not exactly good news, but thanks for the info (0+ / 0-)

    and thanks for the link to the Klein piece.  I missed it yesterday.

  •  One of Many Issues the Dems Haven't Messaged (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    puakev, lostinamerica, Val

    well at all on, and which the right has the ally of both rightwing and mainstream news in pushing its view.

    Not a surprise; I wouldn't expect most reasonable ordinary people who aren't public affairs or politics enthusiasts and active seekers of alternative media to poll otherwise.

    There's no way for the bulk of the mainstream to get the required information.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 04:45:31 PM PST

  •  The American people are stupid & have been since (0+ / 0-)

    1980. The rotten radical Rs are great at lying. And the news equates lies with the truth. I knew I would get screwed out of my SS & Medicare since 1980. I curse the people my age who voted for the racist monsters the Rs & the people who didn't vote at all. We don't have nice thing because we don't vote except in Presidential elections.

  •  This poll raises questions about the "silent (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lostinamerica

    treatment" strategy on Phase 2 of the fiscal cliffs.

    While we need to hang tough on the "We will not negotiate over the debt ceiling." we need a full court press on the debt sequestration and the need for new revenues.

    Merely maintaining the code of silence in this round is not likely to work well for us as we need major changes to public opinion to avoid major problems, and get new tax revenues.

    The current tax revenues will yield between 16% to 18% of GDP depending on economic performance. (One estimate is could yield as much as 19%) but current government spending is 23.6% of GDP.  

    When McConnell says the tax revenue conversation is over he is pushing for the starve the beast program to slash social spending.

    The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by HoundDog on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 05:49:14 PM PST

  •  This is why I worry about the $1T coin attempt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slothlax

    Most people, not understanding what is actually happening, will view an attempt at making the coin as a gimmick to get around dealing with the budget.

    All of this ties into what I think about the way we have acted as a country since 2008.  Most people think that since Obama and the Democrats saved the economy in 2009, that it must not have been that bad.  We really needed two years of Bush blowing things apart for people to understand that the Republicans really screwed things up.  I'm almost afraid that most people won't deal with the debt ceiling until it starts affecting their SS payments.

    "But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence." - President Clinton

    by anonevent on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 06:44:24 PM PST

    •  The platinum coin is a gimmick (0+ / 0-)

      and that's why people would think it was a gimmick. The platinum coin legislation was clearly about minting commemorative coins, nothing more.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 07:31:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The sections of the law meant for commemorative (0+ / 0-)

        coins include language to specify that.  There's nothing in subsections (a) through (k) to indicate that the Treasury Secretary's authority was limited to a commemorative coin.
        In fact the preliminary language is clear that the Treasury Secretary has authority to order circulation coins as full legal tender.

        (k)The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

        "Democracy is a life; and involves continual struggle." ---'Fighting Bob' LaFollette

        by leftreborn on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 02:39:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  So.... (0+ / 0-)

    I really hate to say this, but I kind of hope we do default.  I am tired of phone banking and donating money on behalf of people who vote against their best interest.  They want austerity, let em have it.  Yes, people will be hurt economically,  but if it finally teaches people a lesson I am all for it.  Personally, I give it two weeks before people are at their Congressmans door with pitchforks.  

  •  Just Like The Rest Of Us.... (0+ / 0-)

    Congress needs to pay it's credit card bill..  They voted to spend the money, now it's time for them to pony up the cash.

    It's due.  If they hadn't invaded Iraq, bungled Afghanistan, voted for the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, & the Bush tax cuts of 2001 & 2003 & the Obama tax cut of 2010......they wouldn't be in this spot.

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