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Are the Democrats Taking Hostages Now? No.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Jonathan Chait, in a blog post for New York magazine, tries to swat down allegations that Democrats are currently demanding their own debt-ceiling ransom. As The Washington Post reported, “Democrats are now on the offensive and seeking to undo what has become a cherished prize for the GOP: deep agency spending cuts known as the sequester.” Chait seems skeptical that these reports are even true, but nevertheless has a hypothesis as to why they seem to be spreading:

I have a completely unsubstantiated hypothesis. What if this narrative is spin by pragmatic Republicans to urge conservatives to accept a deal?...Pragmatic Republicans realize their best option is to reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling with no ransom for their party. How to sell this treasonous surrender to the suspicious base? Make conservatives believe they have something to lose. Democrats are demanding spending hikes. That way, conservatives can beat back the spending demands and show that they have “won” something.

I am less skeptical that the news accounts are correct, but still completely unbothered by them, for two reasons. The first reason is, simply, that Democrats are not taking anything "hostage." Does anyone believe that Democrats will let the country default without increased spending on domestic programs? Of course not. The idea is laughable. What are they, then, "ransoming?" 

The second reason has to do with the context of this new stand, assuming the reporting is correct. Democrats did not want to negotiate over the debt ceiling. They have been forced to do so by Republican intransigence. (I argue here why this is not necessarily a win for the hostage-taking.) Thus, once we all concede that negotiation is occurring in some form, it seems very bizarre for conservatives to complain that Democrats are making demands. Remember, Republicans in the Senate can agree to a clean debt ceiling bill any time they want. They have chosen not to do so. The Republican stance therefore seems to be that in this negotiation, which the Democrats opposed, Democrats should not demand anything. This is absurd, although admittedly less so than the idea that Democrats are holding the world's economy hostage.