Misinforming the Public

ThinkProgress reports on a rift between the Chamber of Commerce and many GOP freshmen over the debt ceiling. The Chamber wants the debt ceiling raised because they know the economic results of not doing so would be bad for businesses. The freshmen, who have sworn not to raise the debt ceiling, responded to the Chamber:

"…But that’s what’s different about the freshman class. We don’t listen to folks inside the beltway, we listen to constituents across the country,” said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). Freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) added, “as far as I am concerned, [the Chamber's] leadership forfeited its position as a voice for small business when it became comfortably entrenched in Washington’s status quo.”

The message coming from GOP freshmen -- that they listen to their constituents rather than beltway consensus – is really strange. If the subject were Medicaid cuts, for example, then it would make sense for politicians to push back against the cuts citing polling data in their district. But the idea that lawmakers should take their cues from constituents on the debt ceiling is backwards. 

The problem is that the debt ceiling is not a simple concept, and most Americans don't know very much about what it is and what it means to raise it or not raise it. Polls this year on the debt ceiling have verified this fact; the numbers around the debt ceiling shift, and many hold the contradictory view that not raising the debt ceiling will hurt the economy but that we shouldn't raise it anyway. In contrast to an issue like Medicaid, which has a fairly constant rate of public approval and which Americans experience in their everyday lives, the debt ceiling is a good example of a complex and largely abstract issue on which lawmakers' positions and media reports shape constituents feelings, rather than the other way around.

So when Republicans like Sen. Pat Toomey says that not raising the debt ceiling will not hurt the economy, or when Rep. Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, says that raising the limit is less important than concessions from Democrats, they are not listening to their constituents. They're telling them what to think in a very irresponsible way. Wonder where those contradictory views came from?

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