Comic: The Debt Ceiling Hostage Crisis

If you like these cartoons, and if you’re inclined to, and if you have the money, and if doing so wouldn’t break any religious rules or local laws, you can support my Patreon. I make a living from lots of people pledging just one or two dollars, and I think that’s really neat.

It’s not an ironclad rule, but as a general goal I try to avoid doing “news of the week” cartoons. I like my cartoons to focus on long-term issues.

But Republicans (and it is only Republicans) threatening to tank the entire U.S. economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling is a long-term issue, because the modern GOP pulls this shit again and again. We’ve seen this in 1995, 1996, 2011, 2013, and now 2023, and I doubt this is the last time.

So what is the debt ceiling (also known as the debt limit)? From the US Treasury’s webpage:

The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments.

It’s important to understand that the debt ceiling is about paying debts and obligations that have already been spent by Congress, in the spending bills that have already been passed. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling means refusing to pay for the things we’ve already bought. It means the US goes into default.

So what happens if the US goes into default? Most likely, a worldwide recession, and the US dollar permanently becoming much less valuable. From (ugh) the US Chamber of Commerce (not my favorite group, but no one can accuse them of being left wing):

It is impossible to overstate the negative consequences that would occur if the United States were to default on its debt.

The U.S. economy and global financial system are all underpinned by the idea that the U.S. government – unlike others around the world – always pays its bills. Investments in U.S. debt are considered “risk-free”, which means the federal government pays less to borrow money. […]

Defaulting would mean that the U.S. government no longer always pays its bills. Treasuries would no longer be risk-free.  Interest rates for the government and everyone else would rise as the financial system tries to sort itself out. The role of the dollar globally would be weakened, perhaps permanently. Most analysts believe this would result in an immediate recession with long-term negative effects.

Republicans routinely raise the debt ceiling when a Republican is in the White House (Congress raised it three times during the Trump administration without any fuss). Democrats have also used the debt ceiling vote to complain about spending – but never to the point of threatening a default.

On Twitter, I talked with Ron about this; Ron felt the Democrats are at fault for being unwilling to negotiate and compromise. But an actual compromise involves two sides each giving up something they actually want. (For example, the GOP might give up some tax cuts for the rich, and the Democrats might give up some Medicare spending).

But the GOP doesn’t actually want the U.S. to go into default. That’s the reason holding the debt ceiling hostage is so attractive to them; if the Democrats give in to GOP demands, it means the GOP gets whatever it wants without giving up anything it wants in return.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama, writes:

If the MAGA Republicans can force cuts to Social Security and Medicare by putting a gun to the head of the U.S. economy, what will happen when the debt ceiling comes up again? Will they demand a federal abortion ban? National voter suppression laws? The resignation of cabinet officials?

This was the lesson President Obama learned from his experience in a similar situation. And it’s why President Biden is 100 percent correct not to engage with the Republicans in this rigged game.

Negotiating over spending and taxes should happen during debates on the budget bill, with both parties having priorities they care about at stake. A system in which the GOP gets whatever it wants by threatening to tank the entire economy, even thought they don’t actually want that, is not something we should agree to.

I experimented with doing less detailed “pencils” than usual for this cartoon. This means that I have to do more improvisation and thinking while drawing the final lines, which is exciting for me and hopefully leads to more spontaneous feeling lines and drawings.

The downside is, it can also lead to me making mistakes I probably wouldn’t have made if I penciled more carefully, and even throwing out some finished drawings. Check out the original, rejected art for panel:


This cartoon has nine panels.


At the top of the panel, there is a large caption, which says: THE DEBT CEILING HOSTAGE CRISIS.

The panel shows a middle-aged man, wearing a brown suit with a red necktie, standing in a deep trench that’s been cut into the floor. It’s reminiscent of defensive trenches dug by soldiers during war, but it’s very clean and abstract, rather than being a realistic trench.

The man is holding an old-fashioned comic book bomb – a perfectly round black sphere with a burning fuse – in one hand, and shaking a fist with the other. He’s yelling and looks angry.

MAN: Give me what I want – or I’ll blow us ALL up!


A far shot lets us see that there are actually two trenches here. In one trench is the man from panel one; in the other is a white-haired woman wearing a blue blazer over a red blouse. The two of them are facing each other.

WOMAN: What do you want?


The man holds up the bomb higher, and holds up the forefinger of his other hand. He’s still yelling angrily.

MAN: I want BIG cuts in Social Security and Medicare.


Pretty much the same scene, except now we’re seeing the angry-looking man in profile.

MAN: I ALSO want big cuts for climate change spending. AND the IRS. AND welfare.


A close-up of the man as he smiles.

MAN: Basically, if it’s not defense spending or tax cuts for the rich, I want it slashed.


The “camera” pulls back so we can see both trenches; the woman is in the foreground, the man (still grinning and holding up the bomb) is in the background.

MAN: And if I DON’T get EVERYTHING I want, I’m blowing up the economy!

MAN: Do we have a deal?


A shot of the woman, who has an angry expression as she stares at the man, her arms crossed.



A shot of the two of them staring at each other, with the back of the woman’s head in the foreground. The man is thinking things over.


A shot of the man in his trench, looking a little surprised, and also like his feelings have been hurt.

MAN: You’re not even going to negotiate?

The Debt Ceiling Hostage Crisis | Barry Deutsch on Patreon

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like, Elections and politics. Bookmark the permalink. 

Comments are closed.