Then, his guest came on: Will we really go into “default” if we fail to raise the debt limit?
Last week, Erin Burnett and Savannah Guthrie were unprepared to discuss this point when Rand Paul presented them with the GOP’s standard position. But they were hardly to first TV stars to be stumped by this presentation.
In mid-September, Hardball’s Chris Matthews got waylaid by the GOP's standard pitch too! He interviewed Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican congressman from Alabama.
Should we refuse to raise the debt limit? Before he actually brought on his guest, Matthews was loud and insistent and sure of himself. That would be a disaster!
MATTHEWS (9/18/13): I can't remember when a major political party did something like this, threaten the U.S. economy with a body blow that could kill the recovery, throw the market into a tailspin and whack our 401ks to a fare-thee-well. And what for?Good lord! Matthews was full of fire—before his guest got to talk. When Brooks began to speak, he stated the standard position:
No political leader of the left or right is going to agree to the erasure of his or her signal achievement in public life. Obama isn't going to do it, nor is his party, which has been fighting for health care and promising health care to its voters, as well as Republicans who have been paying attention, since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.
So what justification does the right wing of this country have for its senseless assault on the U.S. credit rating, which took a hit the last time they pulled this tactic? What's the end game except a period of days in which the world watches us as the U.S. discredits itself, followed by another depressing spilt-milk, face-saving gesture that means nothing, achieves nothing, kills whatever is in its path. This is how I look at it. And I hate to see what I see because I still believe, despite this hard evidence in the benefits and rightfulness of self-government.
Representative Mo Brooks is a Republican from Alabama. He supports using the budget or the debt ceiling as a way to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I respect your office. Congratulations on representing your district. My question is: what do you think will be the impact of a default on the U.S. debt?A bit less artfully than Paul, Brooks stated the standard position. Even if we don’t raise the debt limit, we’ll still have enough tax revenue coming in to service “our debt obligations.” Unless Obama chooses to spend the money on something else, there would be no need for default.
BROOKS: Well, I don't think there will be a default on the U.S. debt. The total amount of debt of this country, interest payments are in the hundreds of billions of dollars. We have revenue that's in excess of $2 trillion. So there will be absolutely no default from our debt obligations unless the president of the United States willingly decides to set us on that calamitous course. Now, that would be his decision. Plus, the House has passed legislation that would make it clear that the debt obligations ought to be paid first, before everything else. So I reject your premise.
In fairness, Matthews almost tried to push back. But as it turned out, Rep. Brooks was much better prepared to discuss this issue than his multimillionaire host. According to Brooks, it all depends on what the meaning of default is:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Which economist have you gone to that told you that the secretary of the treasury was wrong yesterday when I heard him say that when the United States' receipts coming in go above what they're able to cover in the cost they have to put out, the spending they have to do, that there will have to be a default?This time, Brooks stated the standard position more clearly. Each year, we’ll have $2 trillion coming in. Our debt obligations are much less than that. If we simply pay those obligations, we won’t have a true “default.”
Do you believe the secretary of the treasury is lying? And do you have someone else who says we will not go into default? And if we go into default, what will you pay in terms of consequences? Will you say, “I guess I was wrong?” What will you do if that's wrong? Suppose you're wrong.
BROOKS: No. The White House is using political gamesmanship and wordsmanship. It depends on what the word "default" means. To most people, the word "default" means that you're not paying your debt obligations. That's what it means to me. You're not paying your creditors. And there's no way in the world that we would not have sufficient revenue to pay our creditors.
Now the president, in his discretion, in a government shutdown or in a no raise the debt ceiling situation, may decide that he doesn't want to pay our creditors. But understand, we still have— We're $2 trillion a year in revenue coming in. And our debt obligations are in the hundreds of billions. So if he pays those debt obligations then we're fine.
What the White House is using the word "default" is— They're saying the entire things that we want to spend money on, if don't spend them, that's default. That's the wrong definition.
At this point, Matthews crumbled and failed. He issued a thoroughly jumbled response. This is a cable star’s brain on lack of preparation. Cover the eyes of the kids:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): The Wall Street Journal lead editorial—just a minute. The Wall Street Journal lead editorial said that you're committing suicide. This is kamikaze. The other question I have to raise, if there isn't a debt ceiling, then what are we arguing about it? You said that the debt will paid. Everything will be paid. Well, then why are we arguing about this? It doesn't make sense what you're saying. It's illogical. Is there a debt ceiling?First, Chris asked about (political) suicide. Then, he tried to get back onto the substantive question. But his questions made no sense at this point. By the end of that passage, Matthews was totally lost.
Eventually, Brooks extended his presentation in another way which seemed to make perfect sense. What will we do if we just stop borrowing more money?
This is what we will do, Brooks said. On its face, this makes perfect sense:
BROOKS: It's the same thing that governors have to do in the 50 states. If you have a legislature that has projected a certain level of revenue and spending, and they're wrong, and the spending exceeds the revenue, then you have something that's called proration and the governor then forces it to work. That's how we do it in the state of Alabama. That's how we do it in a lot of states.That’s a bit murky, but here’s what it means. If governors don’t have enough revenue coming in, they have to start making cuts.
Every word of that is true, even including the word proration. Matthews, thoroughly decompressed, had nothing left at this point.
Matthews bumbled further during this session, but there you see it for the third time. Burnett and Guthrie were unprepared to discuss this seminal topic this past week. On September 18, Matthews was unprepared too.
It was classic millionaire journalism. He was loud and insistent and sure of himself. Then, his guest came on!