In Defense of Republican Renegades


I want to say something in defense of those terrible, terrible, “far-right” Republicans who voted against Speaker Kevin McCarthy. I note that the eight bomb-throwers were joined by every single Democrat in the House. Nobody is castigating all those good liberals, who provided 96 percent of the votes. But set that aside. Think about the Republicans.

Their vote against their party leader comes after the threatened government shutdown, which involved some of the same Republicans. If you take the view of the establishment media, these are the actions of legislative terrorists. The New York Times ran mug shots of each of them as if it were the nation’s wall for posting the Most Wanted.

With all the hand-wringing, the oh-my-God-what’s-the-world-coming-to, let’s have a little interest in why they did what they did. Much of it was that McCarthy, they said, had lied to them. He was untrustworthy. He had promised to do certain things and hadn’t.

Okay. But lied about what?

The New York Times, to its credit, finally ran an interview with one of them, Rep. Tim Burchett, Republican of Tennessee. Burchett said the problem with McCarthy was about spending bills. Burchett and the others want to rein in the spending so that the Treasury doesn’t have to borrow so much. They want to rein in the debt.

 Burchett recalled asking Chairwoman Kay Granger of the House Appropriations Committee, “Just how much money does this piece of legislation cost?” Burchett recalled, “She just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know. Next question.’ ”

Burchett wanted to know. He and the others wanted the spending calculated and disclosed, and presented in separate bills, so that the House could vote on them. To my understanding, this was their fantastic, far-right demand. And they dug their heels. “My views weren’t being represented,” Burchett told The New York Times. “And whoever had [McCarthy’s] ear, they were. I remember I had a meeting with his lieutenant because I was a holdout.

“And the press was like, ‘You still a no?’ ‘Yeah. I’m going to meet with him, though.’ ‘Great.’ And then a couple of days before the vote, they set up a meeting. I go to this meeting. And I wait, and I wait, and I wait. I waited 20 or 30 minutes, and they didn’t show up. They thought they were just going to roll me.”

The Times’ interviewer pressed Burchett on the consequences of a government shutdown. “A government shutdown, like a default, has consequences,” the reporter said. “Those consequences are soldiers aren’t paid, law enforcement, federal law enforcement.”

 “They will all get paid,” Burchett replied. “They always are.” But he wanted somebody to do something about the spending. “This addiction needs to be broken,” he said. “Somebody’s going to have to take tough stands. Somebody’s going to have to draw attention to it, yet, nobody is.”

Rep. Burchett is right about that. Year after year, Congress fails to exercise the power of the purse, and passes omnibus bills and continuing resolutions.

And nobody seems to care. Recall the Democratic presidential debates of four years ago. The candidates talked about all kinds of things, but did they care about debt? Yes, they did — student debt. Elizabeth Warren was for canceling 95 percent of it. Bernie Sanders was for canceling all of it. Did they care about spending? They sure did. They wanted more of it: Medicare for All, paid family leave, on and on. Candidate Joe Biden said, “I have a trillion-dollar program for infrastructure that will provide for thousands and thousands of new jobs, not $15 an hour but $50 an hour plus benefits, unions, unions being able to do that.”

Halfway through the campaign, Seattle entrepreneur Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, and a longtime Democrat, considered running for president. He raised the question of the spending and debt. The Democrats were not interested — not in him and not in the debt. And the total debt at the end of 2018, which is the number Schultz had, was at an outrageous $21.5 trillion.

At the end of 2022, it hit $33.4 trillion — up 60 percent in four years. During that time, it went from 105 percent to 131 percent of one year’s total output of the U.S. economy.

Well, there was a Covid emergency. But the emergency is over and the deficit rolls on. For fiscal 2022, the Treasury ran a deficit of $1.38 trillion out of spending of $6.27 trillion. For every dollar the federal government spent, it borrowed 22 cents.

And few care. It’s clear as a sunny day in December that the Democrats do not care about the spending and debt. Corner some of them, and they talk about tax increases, but it’s just talk — a way to blame debt on the Republicans. Four years ago, Sanders and Warren talked about taxing the top 1 percent — but not middle-class Americans, not them.

But do the countries the left-wing Democrats admire, like Denmark, squeeze their big tax revenues entirely out of the rich? No; they tax the middle class at rates far higher than we do. And when our progressives mention tax increases, do they say it’s for reducing the spiral of debt? No — it’s for more spending, which they want to do whether they have a tax increase or not.

And do the Republicans care? They used to, or anyway, they said they did. But under Donald Trump, the deficit increased by $7.8 trillion. He was supposed to be our businessman-president — but, let’s not forget, Trump was a certain kind of businessman: a property developer. A borrower. Debt is part of his business model. It’s called “other people’s money.”

Several of the Republicans in this year’s debates lashed out at Trump for his incontinent spending. Nikki Haley was one. I note her on Fox News saying, “Why don’t we look at all the things we don’t need to spend on?” There’s an idea. What things? She didn’t name them, but quickly changed the subject to tax cuts. “Make the small business tax cuts permanent,” she said.

How about Mike Pence? Pence broke with Trump on the election lie; how about the spending? When asked about that in the first debate, he said, “We rebuilt our military.” The one Republican who made a big promise to cut spending was Vivek Ramaswamy, who said he would cut out 75 percent of federal employees. That was big, all right — too big to be taken seriously.

If you’re a lowly congressman like Tim Burchett, what do you do? Maybe you join with a few others and throw a wrench in the works. And when people say, “That was a terrible thing you guys did,” you can respond by saying, “There’s a terrible problem, and nobody’s paying attention.”


Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey was a business reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the 1980s and 1990s and from 2000 to his retirement in 2013 was an editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times. He is the author of The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression, and is at work on a history of Seattle in the 1930s. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Anne.


  1. I am not sure if this article is intended to be tongue in cheek or not! If it is not, please…No one in Washington cares about the debt. Would any of them really risk raising taxes on the middle class (not that they should). Don’t compare us to Denmark, which returns big rewards to its citizens using the taxes they collect for programs such universal health care, day care, family leave, free college, creating a sense of security for all its citizens, etc. A tax increase or a cut in spending here would only impact the people who can least afford it. It would never touch the wealthy because of the corrupt election system created by the corrupt Supreme Court via the Citizens United decision.

  2. You mention spending and debt. You don’t mention the third leg: revenues. Democrats had proposals for that too: they wanted rich people and rich corporations to pay more, to cover more of that additional spending (rather than increase the national debt). In part because the Reaganesque “trickle-down economics” theory of letting rich people have more money, the impetus for lowering the tax rate on higher income brackets and for keeping the capital gains tax rate lower than working wages has consistently shown not to lead to a stronger economy.

    In pointing out that the Dems didn’t vote to keep McCarthy, you also neglect to point out that the Dems didn’t vote for him in the first place last January, that he lied to them too (when the debt ceiling was being negotiated), and that McCarthy was simultaneously begging for Dems’ support and blaming them for the budget showdown last week.

  3. Bruce, one thing that you have overlooked in your analysis of the GOP’s folly is how much of this was juvenile pique. Gaetz was out to get McCarthy for purely personal reasons: McCarthy didn’t defend him against the ethics investigation. Matt hated Kevin.
    Yes, McCarthy failed to keep his word to the rebels but also failed to keep his word to the Dems. He talked about regular order but didn’t even let the Dems have an hour to read the bill. Maybe the country and Congress are better off without someone who can’t keep his word. But what will follow him — MAGA idiots? Shutdown artists? Putin lackeys? Those who don’t believe in social equity or even Medicare?

  4. Bruce – good column. We all own a piece of this cluster. David Brooks columbia today, “Can We Talk about Biden.” My Democratic party has abandoned the fiscal responsibility it used to have and is focused on spending – tax the rich! But while it sounds well – the progressive wing loves it -it is not possible without the middle class participating.

  5. Bruce. Let’s review the process for creating a federal budget. It really has come to scarcely resemble what we were taught in our civics classes. There are proposals, committee deliberations, a final version to the floor of the House and a vote. The House version is sent on to the Senate, which creates its own version of a budget. Then, there are negotiations among the leaderships of the two bodies. A compromise measure is finally sent to the House and Senate for final approval. There is nothing in the civics lessons that even hint that unhappy losers in the process should hold the debt ceiling hostage, threatening default on America’s debts. Or such as we saw from Republicans who were willing to shut down the government because they didn’t get their way. It is good to hear contrary opinions, even if they sometimes don’t make sense.

  6. There are so many things laughable about this statement: “Maybe you join with a few others and throw a wrench in the works. And when people say, “That was a terrible thing you guys did,” you can respond by saying, “There’s a terrible problem, and nobody’s paying attention.”

    We are seeing right now the dismaying sight of a U.S. Congress paralyzed by the remembering most extreme Republicans, unable to even elect a House Speaker. At a crucial time in the world. Representatives take an oath to serve their country, not “throw a wrench in the works” to get attention.


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