"To default on America's debts would be a tragedy that would far exceed anything we've known financially in this country since the Founding Fathers created the Constitution," said President Carter. "I don't believe that's going to happen."
The government shutdown may be closing out its second week, with lawmakers yet to strike a deal either on the budget, or on the approaching debt ceiling deadline. But nevertheless, the 39th president has faith Congress will not lead the U.S. into default, a scenario he said constitutes an “economic crime” and “global tragedy.”
“There’s a distinct difference between shutting down the government for a few days, and defaulting on our debt,” explained former President Jimmy Carter Friday in an interview with MSNBC’s Richard Lui. Although it’s uncomfortable, the shutdown won’t produce any “serious damage,” he said.
“But to default on America’s debts would be a tragedy that would far exceed anything we’ve known financially in this country since the Founding Fathers created the Constitution,” said Carter. “I don’t believe that’s going to happen.”
The Treasury Department has warned that the country’s borrowing limit must be raised by Oct. 17, or the U.S. will be unable to pay its bills.
Speaking in New York as part of a celebration for Habitat for Humanity’s 30th anniversary, the 89-year-old philanthropist and former president spoke of the need for lawmakers to scale back some of the vitriolic rhetoric that’s colored much of the last eleven days. The government shut down on Oct. 1 over Republican demands to delay or defund provisions of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care law. Since then, the unified crusade against Obamacare has largely been replaced by a GOP call to curb the country’s deficit and reduce overall government spending.
“I think both sides ought to be a little more flexible, at least to the extent of sitting down in an extended private session,” said Carter.
That advice seems to have already resonated in Washington, as lines of communication between President Obama and Congressional Republicans cleared considerably over the last two days. White House meetings with House and Senate GOP members were both considered constructive, according to attendees, and aides said Speaker Boehner was still speaking with the president by phone. Both recognized the “need to remove default as a weapon in budget negotiations,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday.
Carter showed admiration for the Republican speaker, and recognized the difficult position he was in. “I know John Boehner fairly well–he’s not a coward,” said Carter. “He’s got a very difficult, fragmented Republican Party.”
On the Senate side, those fissures have been equally prominent. The Republican divide was on full display Friday at the Values Voters Summit, where Tea Party leader Ted Cruz doubled down on the strategy that triggered the shutdown, and declared plummeting poll numbers irrelevant. “The Democrats are feeling the heat!” said Cruz at the annual gathering of religious conservative activists. Later in the day, the Texas senator disputed a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that found only 24% held a positive opinion of Republicans.
“If you seek out liberal Obama supporters and ask them their views, they’re going to tell you they’re liberal Obama supporters,” Cruz told NBC News in an interview at the Capitol. “That’s not reflective of where the country is.”
Cruz had also taken a swipe at President Carter during the summit.
“There’s only one other period since World War II of four consecutive years of less than 1% average growth–that was 1979 and 1982,” said Cruz. “It was coming out of the Jimmy Carter administration. It was the same failed economic policies, out-of-control spending and taxes and regulation, and it produced the exact same results.”
Carter said Friday that the political environment he presided over was a “totally different ballgame.” It was during his last year in office that Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion saying government work could not go on until Congress agreed to pay for it, effectively ending an era of commonplace budget standoffs that yielded little consequence.
“We never had any problem with extending the debt limit,” said Carter. “I had just as much cooperation from Republicans as I did Democrats, although I was a Democratic president.”