The debt ceiling fight has been the tea party's big moment in the sun, where their standard bearers in Congress finally have their big chance to prove to the American people that they have absolutely no business being elected to anything ever. After the Democratic President and Republican Speaker spent weeks working closely to craft a deal that at least on its face looked like it would reduce the deficit significantly over the next decade--while not raising actual tax rates or completely gutting entitlement programs--the tea partiers led by their new champion, Eric Cantor (R-Crazy Town), decided this was completely unacceptable because technically getting rid of some tax loopholes would mean more revenue for the government and that simply could not happen. Any monkeying with the tax code to bring in more money is clearly egregious enough to justify letting us hit the debt ceiling (with expenditures that Congress ALREADY authorized, incidentally).
Hitting the debt ceiling doesn't necessarily mean defaulting, but it would require far more immediate and far more drastic cuts or tax hikes--and pretty much every economist not named Sarah Palin thinks this would wreck our economy even further.
I imagine this conversation between a thoughtful Republican voter and a Tea Party member of Congress:
Voter: Hey, I hear you voted to not raise the debt limit. Isn't that going to destroy the financial markets?
Congressman: Nonsense! That's just a bluff by those who want to take the Obama debt deal.
Voter: Wait, what's so bad about that deal? It cuts trillions from the budget, across the board, and didn't have any tax increases. Isn't that sort of why you were elected?
Congressman: We held out so we can be sure of getting a better deal.
Voter: And how are you going to get a better deal? If the government defaults, Republicans will never be elected dogcatcher again, let alone take over Washington. And as it is, we only have one house of Congress. Even if we had both House and Senate, we'd still need Obama's agreement, or else we'd need veto-proof majorities. You are aware of this, right?
Congressman: We are not selling out our principles!
Voter: Your principles aren't worth much if you can't get the budget cuts you were sent to Washington to get. And besides, what principles would be sold out? Deep cuts, no tax hikes...
Congressman: Getting rid of deductions equals a tax hike.
Voter: Actually getting rid of a deduction equals getting rid of a deduction. If I finish paying off my mortgage, does that mean my taxes have gone up since I can no longer take that deduction? And besides, shouldn't we be simplifying the tax code anyway?
Congressman: Not in a way that increases revenue! After all, increasing revenue just makes government spend more.
Voter: Seems like spending more isn't an option, even the Democrats are conceding that now. Why not call them on it?
Congressman: Because I don't trust Obama in anything he does.
Voter: Who says you have to trust him? But that doesn't mean you can't get him to a deal. Hell, he's president for at least another year, and at the rate you're going, you'll guarantee four more years for him. If anything is going to get done, for better or for worse, you'll have to work with him.
Congressman: No we dont'!
Voter: Hey why aren't you wearing pants?