Debt Ceiling Extortion Is an Attack on Democracy

When President Biden was trying to pass his Build Back Better program, one of the main objections centered on its democratic legitimacy. Yes, the bill’s critics conceded,

voters had given Democrats control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. But did they really want sweeping policy change? Did the Democrats have any right to rest such

broad legislation on such narrow legislative majorities? The skeptics conceded that Biden had spelled out all his plans during the campaign, but they suggested people had

entrusted his party with power for other reasons. These arguments proved compelling not just to Republicans but even to centrists and some moderate Democrats. “Nobody elected him

to be FDR. They elected him to be normal and stop the chaos,” complained Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat of Virginia. In the wake of the midterm elections, Republicans are

likewise flexing their newfound power. The House is threatening to precipitate a financial crisis by refusing to lift the debt ceiling unless Biden gives them … something. They

have not decided what, but the most radical members are demanding transformational change, as any change on a scale sufficient to deliver the country from what they describe as

existential peril would have to be. The coverage of this demand has been consumed with the practical consequences of a potential default. What has gone largely unremarked

upon is the blatant violation of democratic legitimacy this hostage scheme entails. After all, while it’s true Biden won narrowly, he did win an election, he did carry both

chambers of Congress in 2020, and he did spell out his domestic program during the campaign.