WASHINGTON – Mass shootings in Allen, Texas and another in Cleveland, Texas. The first ever indictment of a former president, followed by a sexual assault verdict, followed by an indictment of a congressman. Fighter jets shoot down UFOs over North America. The war in Ukraine. Threats of war in Asia. A flood of immigrants crosses the southern border. Actual floods in California.
And now a new disaster. A nation that is drowning in the news day in and day out is facing a budget stalemate that could lead to a recession or worse.
A divided Congress has only three weeks to raise the country’s borrowing limit, thus preventing America from defaulting on its debt. Economists say a default has never happened before and could push the United States and the global economy into apocalyptic territory. But for many Americans, this scenario remains an abstraction from everyday concerns. There are signs that the crisis-weary population wants to exclude this person.
A recent focus group convened by the research firm Engagious asked 11 Georgia voters who supported President Joe Biden in 2020 if they worried the government would blow through a looming deadline and default on its debt. Not a single hand was raised. Corporate America has largely avoided the contentious debate in Washington.
Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, said he was recently shown a private poll that showed most people surveyed were “skeptical” of doomsday scenarios. Even those who realized the potential consequences believed that the two sides would eventually strike a deal to avoid default.
“Global and US investors in general seem largely unfazed by the imminence of X,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and a veteran of the spending wars in Washington. He will not be able to pay the bills. The stock market is still strong as is the value of the US dollar and much of the bond market. I think the main reason for the kind attitude towards the debt limit is that everyone thinks they have seen this movie before many times over the years and now know the ending.”
The problem, however, is that while panic is counterproductive in most crises, it may be necessary to solve this problem by pressuring elected officials to make concessions and avert disaster.
“The calm in the financial markets increases the odds that lawmakers will not act in a timely manner, as it is likely that it will take some turmoil in the markets to generate the necessary political will to get lawmakers to act,” Zandi said.
The debt-ceiling standoff in 2011 provides an illustration of both the costs of brinksmanship and the president’s persuasive power. Then-President Barack Obama gave a rare prime-time speech about a week before the government breached the debt ceiling. He urged Americans to call Congress and “make your voice heard”. The public response was enthusiastic enough to crash the websites of congressional leaders.
Obama and Republican lawmakers struck a deal days later. They avoided default, but significant damage was done anyway. A Treasury report in 2013—amid another debt ceiling debate—concluded that the deadlock in 2011 hurt job growth, disrupted financial markets, and reduced consumer and business confidence.
So far, Biden has not given such a prime-time speech. Markets, so far, have been mostly ignored. Google Trends data shows there are far fewer internet searches for terms like “debt ceiling” than in 2013. The big three cable news channels mentioned debt ceiling only a third more than they did in 2013, according to an analysis done for NBC News. By Media Matters.
Inside the White House, advisers believe there is still enough time to reach an agreement with the Republicans and avert disaster. Biden has been steadily increasing pressure on Republicans where they live, recently traveling to a New York swing district represented by a Republican.
“We’re not at the crisis point yet,” Biden told reporters on Saturday.
A new piece of economic data suggests that an awakening may have begun. A report released Friday by the University of Michigan showed that consumer confidence is declining “along with the spread of negative news about the economy, including the debt crisis.”
In the coming days, Biden will take more questions from the press about the debt ceiling, “which is a way to help break through,” said a White House aide.
The White House has also expanded its communications team, enlisting Rob Friedlander of the Office of Management and Budget to help explain and define its stance on the debt ceiling.
“A big part of this is making the stakes clear to the American people so they can communicate that to their representatives” in Congress, said the White House aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House strategy.
The attention paid to the debt-ceiling crisis under Obama may be a product of a simpler political time, when a near-existential threat to the nation was an anomaly, rather than another Thursday. Donald Trump was the host of a reality TV show, social media was still a novelty, and a congressman yelling “You’re lying” to the president seemed like a really big deal.
“We all have shorter attention spans and crisis fatigue,” said Dan Pfeiffer, who was a senior communications official in the Obama White House during those earlier battles.
As Marvel Studios struggles to keep audiences engaged after seeing the universe saved from the brink of destruction 32 times, partisan combat in Congress isn’t quite the same draw, however serious the stakes.
“Because defaults have been averted the past two times, there seems to be an assumption from a lot of people and markets that it will be averted again,” Pfeiffer said. “This is a very naive point of view in my opinion.”
Both sides are steadfast, convinced that the other will collapse on mere pressure. But what if the pressure never builds because the public and markets are not paying attention?
In the focus group of 11 voters in Georgia, the moderator asked how many people followed news about fighting the debt ceiling. Only four raised their hands.
Zandi said he believes public anxiety will inevitably set in. “I suspect that the markets will remain quiet until they are not. This means that a soft stance towards the debt limit will quickly give way to panicked anxiety literally every day sometime in the next few weeks,” he said.
In the absence of pressure from their constituents, Republicans in Congress have room to risk an extreme stance and insist on sweeping budget cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling.
And the most powerful voice in the party, Trump, is inciting them to do so.
“I say to the Republicans out there – congressmen and senators – if they don’t give you big cuts, you’re going to have to fall short,” Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, told CNN. City Hall Wednesday night.
The default was dismissed as “really psychological more than anything else.”
If people follow the issue at all, said political analysts from both parties, they conclude that this is just another partisan battle in Washington that is reinforcing perceptions of broader dysfunction.
The White House believes that Biden will escape blame if negotiations collapse and that voters will conclude that Republicans in Congress are wrong. This may be overly optimistic. Some analysts said that if the debt ceiling is not raised and the worst predictions come true — stock markets collapse and jobs disappear — people will blame whoever is responsible, starting with Biden.
Inside the Biden White House, a former Obama campaign adviser said, some aides view the budget standoff as “unrealistic.”
“There are people out there who say, ‘Uh, people always blame Republicans because they know Republicans are crazy,’” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. “Whereas I think the blame is more equal, or even leaning on the president.”
Analysts said it would be a mistake for the White House to assume that voters will analyze the varying levels of responsibility in the event of a default.
said Sarah Longwell, who conducts regular focus groups with voters and publishes the conservative site the fort. Every day, she said, voters “will blame the officials because that’s what people do. They will blame him.” [Biden] Because they don’t follow it closely. They will blame the people responsible.”
Some voters may not fully understand the difference between a government shutdown — which is relatively limited and now fairly routine — and an unprecedented default, which could raise interest rates on mortgages and credit cards, and raise the unemployment rate by as much as 5 percentage points. .
By controlling the massive megaphone, Biden is in a position to convey the massive risks involved and influence public opinion. But analysts said he has a lot of work to do on that front.
Now, call [from the White House] It was out of proportion to the catastrophic nature of the consequences if this went off the rails,” Longwell said. “People look at this as a Washington action story that they’re not focused on.”
Longwell said if Biden “wants people to focus on him, wants Republicans to push him, he’s going to have to overcommunicate to people about the personal consequences” of defaulting.
The question is whether Biden can convince the public of the dangers that lie ahead: Will Americans listen, as they did when Obama told them to call Congress? The average approval rating for Biden’s job is 42 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. That’s the same thing Obama said when he delivered his prime-time speech on the debt ceiling, Gallup polls show.
“As a partisan conservative, I would say it is [Biden] “He’s been a very effective president,” said Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois. “He’s just a communicator. He can’t communicate hard enough, and that’s really lacking now, big time. There was no sense of urgency on his part.”
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