Now that our elected leaders have finally found a way to avert the Great Debt-Ceiling Disaster with an imperfect settlement that generally advances the conservative agenda, mainstream Republicans must prepare to answer the objections of Tea Party True Believers who grumble, "If we had just held on, we could have gotten more."
This objection to the fizzled crisis faces one overwhelmingly significant question: how?
In countless conversations, both on my radio show and in private, I've never found an advocate for the "stand on principle and never compromise" crowd who could sketch out a plausible scenario by which conservatives gain from pushing a potential settlement beyond August 2.
Sure, it's sound policy to avoid borrowing more when you're already disastrously in debt. But that doesn't give you the option to stiff creditors forever when you've already committed (by law) to paying their money.
Michele Bachmann, Joe Walsh, Rush Limbaugh, Ron Paul, and other champions of the "No Deal, No Problem" school of thought never confront the uncomfortable reality that under any scenario, with any possible political resolution, the government must pay obligations that it's already undertaken—not just to creditors, but to contractors and employees with legally enforceable contracts. Paul might flirt with the idea of the federal government declaring bankruptcy and welshing on its debts, but that would mean very simply the total collapse of the economic system of the U.S. and a worldwide depression to rival the 1930s.
So if it's a given (and it should be) that the government can only delay, not avoid, borrowing the money it needs to pay its obligations, what exactly is the gain from raising costs (increased interest, penalties for delay, added obligations for closing and then re-opening various government offices, damaged prospects for recovery) by provoking a thoroughgoing disruption? Some purists insist that it would actually help the country if hitting the debt ceiling forced the government to immediately reduce spending by 40 percent, since nearly half of the federal government's undertakings are frivolous. But legally, constitutionally, you can only close those departments, eliminate those functions and save that money through a majority vote in both houses of Congress (inconceivable with a Democratic Senate), not by refusing to pay out money that's already been appropriated and that the government is formally obligated to pay.