In the quiet, marbled halls of the U.S. Capitol, speaking too frankly is frowned upon by most lawmakers.
And then there’s Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the firebrand whom critics accused Tuesday of saying the silent part out loud by talking about the stalled-but-continuing federal debt limit talks as akin to a hostage negotiation.
Referring to the bill on the debt limit and spending cuts that passed the House with only Republican votes, Gaetz said: “I think my conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow & they don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage,” according to a reporter for Semafor.
Gaetz’s seeming brazenness immediately drew fire from some Democratic allies on Twitter. CAP Action, the political arm of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, said, “Rep. Gaetz said the quiet part out loud ― this was never about fiscal health, and always about holding our economy hostage to enact an extremist economic agenda that experts predict would push the economy into recession.”
Economists say if the Treasury Department defaults on its debt or even fails to pay other obligations to be able to avoid defaulting on the debt, economic chaos and likely a recession would ensue.
“Rep. Gaetz said the quiet part out loud – this was never about fiscal health, and always about holding our economy hostage to enact an extremist economic agenda that experts predict would push the economy into recession.”
The White House and House Republicans have been talking in earnest for about two weeks now, but there has been little public progress on closing the gap between the White House’s position that the debt limit should be raised unconditionally and the House GOP’s demand that it be raised only if accompanied by massive spending cuts.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the Treasury would be unable to pay the government’s bills in early June, possibly as early as June 1, though some Republican lawmakers doubt that date.
Gaetz’s remarks may have been impolitic, at the least, but House GOP leaders’ remarks later in the day supported the idea Democrats should not expect to get much, or anything, in return for making concessions to Republicans.
Asked what Democrats can expect to get, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters, “That we’re going to raise the debt ceiling.”
That position was reiterated by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), chair of the House Financial Services Committee and one of McCarthy’s designated negotiators in the talks.
Asked what Republicans were putting on the table to incentivize Democrats to make concessions, McHenry said simply, “The debt ceiling increase.”
“So [former House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer negotiated with [former President Donald] Trump to raise spending in the context of the debt ceiling. We’re doing a similar exercise to pare spending,” McHenry said.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said Democrats are in need of a debt limit increase because of their prior victories in spending fights.
“They’ve already actually gotten theirs, to a large degree. We’re willing to give them an increase in debt ceiling. That’s what they’re getting,” he said.
Gaetz’s remarks were not the first time a prominent Republican had referred to the debt limit in kidnapping terms. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who helped broker a deal in 2011 to avoid a default, made a similar comparison a year later after reflecting on what the GOP had won.
“What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming,” he told NBC News.