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Posts Tagged ‘Republican fiscal stewardship’

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

5938796728_63d4816b74Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing

And so, after 16 days, after a $24 billion loss to the economy, and just hours before the United States was about to pass through its federal debt limit, with potentially catastrophic global consequences, the Senate (81–18) and House (285–144) have approved a budget deal that could have been voted on weeks ago—months ago, really. The bill will keep the federal government operating through Jan. 15, 2014, and extends the debt ceiling only until Feb. 7. None of the GOP’s demands were met.

In effect, 162 of 278 Republican members of Congress—that’s 58 percent—voted for the United States to default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history.

If You Vote Republican, Don’t Expect Functional Government

GOP representatives did, however, sing all three verses of “Amazing Grace” in a caucus meeting on Tuesday before voting, again, not to reopen the government.

We have observed often before that Republicans nowadays do not seek office in order to govern, as Democrats and independents understand the term, but rather to hold power—power to dismantle government. Republicans in the generations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had different governing philosophies from their Democratic brethren, but at least they all agreed that the point of holding public office was to serve what they regarded as the public good (which, for both parties, usually included portions of private and corporate good, too). President Eisenhower, for example, pushed Congress relentlessly to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized what is today a 47,000-mile system of interstate highways throughout the United States, widely regarded as the single greatest public works project in the nation’s history. President Nixon, though he is remembered for darker accomplishments, oversaw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and his progressive legislation included the earned income tax credit, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s Republican party, such as it is, is motivated by no such constructive purpose. Having purged moderates and what the true believers call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) from their ranks, and now living in fear of primary challenges from fervent, purer-than-thou Tea Party radicals, surviving GOP officeholders seem able only to obstruct and stall the normal operations of government on the federal level—while being paid $177,000 per year. At the state level, however, the GOP has shown great energy and ingenuity in rolling back hard-won voting rights, women’s access to reproductive choice and birth control, cutting further the taxes of the rich and striking down taxation and regulation of industry, and helping the spread of guns in bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.

9880045165_92902a4cd9Senate Republicans have used the filibuster against President Obama’s proposed legislation and nominees with a frequency never seen before in American history. Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (2012), has written about a once-secret meeting the night of Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 in which Republican leaders gathered to plot an all-out obstruction of all of the new president’s initiatives. This while the nation and the world were plunging down an economic abyss brought on largely by Republican laissez-faire economic policies and “fiscal stewardship” of tax-cutting and massive privatization. (If the GOP had had its way, the Social Security system would have been privatized . . . before the 2008 financial meltdown.)

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Shutdown, with No Exit Strategy, Shows GOP’s Governing Style

And so, just as the Republicans were helping drown the U.S. economic recovery in every way imaginable, giving not a single vote to the new president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) of 2009, and blocking from even coming to the floor for a vote the American Jobs Act that Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress two years ago, so their most recent, 16-day, shutdown of the federal government contained in concentrated form all the destructiveness of their regressive, anti-democratic, and truly job-killing (in)activity of the past several years.

We have also written at times about Democrats’ weaknesses (there are many), but if Americans want functional government—from passage of legislation that benefits the public, and roads and bridges and levees in good repair, to food and drug inspections and air traffic safety, not to mention the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance—then remember that voting for one party results in a fairly functional government, imperfect, but moving toward broader coverage of people’s rights and benefits. The other party—well, the past two weeks have shown that even when they manage to hijack a plane, they really do not know how to fly or bring it in for a landing, and, in any case, they would have already cut funding for paying the flight training school instructors, air traffic controllers, and turned out the lights on the pot-holed runway.

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What Are the Democrats Saying?

President Obama after the Shutdown’s End:

The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow—like education and infrastructure and research. . . . 

Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, Oct. 17, 2013

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

I am NOT celebrating tonight. . . . the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end. According to the S&P index . . . $24 billion has been flushed down the drain for a completely unnecessary political stunt.

$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?

The Republicans keep saying, “Leave the sequester in place and cut all those budgets.” They keep trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they are ready to flush away $24 billion on a political stunt.  

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), e-mail to supporters, Oct. 16, 2013

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Top two illustrations by Chamomile Tea Party. ‘Republican Demands’ chart by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

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Deliberate Fiscal Crisis 2013

Monday, September 30th, 2013

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“Governing by Near-Death Experience” and Other Observations

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“This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That’s it. That’s why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt. . . .

Imagine if the Republican Party had won the 2012 election and Senate Democrats threatened to breach the debt ceiling and cause a financial crisis unless Republicans added a public option to Obamacare. Does anyone think a President Mitt Romney would find that position reasonable? Does anyone think that position would be reasonable?” —Ezra Klein, “Don’t Forget What the Shutdown Is Really About,” at Wonkblog

In reply, a reader writes in to Wonkblog:

“There might be an even more instructive analogy. In May 2007, 140 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to defund the Iraq war. In September of the same year, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Republicans agreed to defund the war. At that time, approval of the Iraq war was polled at 33% in favor and 64% against.”

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capitolupsidedownYou cannot have this reckless, nihilistic, fundamentalist, ideologically driven governance. . . . Ultimately, advocacy can’t trump governance.” —Paul H. Stebbins, executive chairman, World Fuel Services Corp., and member of Fix the Debt

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“For all the ubiquity of political polarizing and heightened partisanship, no honest observer can deny that the rise of crisis governance and various forms of legislative hostage taking comes entirely from the GOP. . . . This is the reality that finally brought Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, two of DC’s most fastidiously sober, even-handed and high-minded arbiters of political standards and practices, to finally just throw up their hands mid-last-year and say ‘Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.’ ” —Josh Marshall, “Broken Windows, Broken States,” Talking Points Memo

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“There is no need to watch Gone with the Wind to grasp the American South’s taste for lost causes. Just watch Congress . . . [A]s Obamacare’s socialist, secular machine gradually mows down what remains of civil society, diehards can comfort themselves they were brave enough to lie in its path. It will be a glorious defeat.” —Edward Luce in The Financial Times

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“Against the backdrop of a government-shutdown deadline, Karen Tumulty noted yesterday the ‘cumulative effect of almost three years of governing by near-death experience.’ It’s phrasing that rings true for a reason—since Republicans retook the House majority in January 2011, no major legislation has become law, but we have endured quite a few crises.

“In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. And right now, in September 2013, the odds of a government shutdown are quite good once again.

“That’s eight self-imposed, entirely unnecessary, easily avoidable crises since John Boehner got his hands on the Speaker’s gavel—a 33-month period in which Congress racked up zero major legislative accomplishments.

“ . . . great nations can’t function this way. The United States can either be a 21st-century superpower or it can tolerate Republicans abandoning the governing process and subjecting Americans to a series of self-imposed extortion crises. It cannot do both.” —Steve Benen, “A Series of Near-Death Experiences,” at Maddow Blog

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“Listening to the Republicans lie outrageously on the Sunday shows about the catastrophic effects of a program that isn’t even in effect (while denying that climate change exists!) is enough to give me a headache. It reminded me of . . . [Rick Perlstein’s] fascinating article for The Daily Beast about what he calls our ‘mendocracy’—which means a society ruled by liars.” —Digby, “Exchange Grate,” a Hullabaloo

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WDC_at_dawn.DougMills.NYT

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Photo credits: Top: White House photo; upside-down reflection of Capitol by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg; Washington at dawn by Doug Mills for The New York Times



Debt Limit Hostage Crisis 2013: House Republicans Demand Goodies

Friday, September 27th, 2013

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There are some basic notions that undergird the operation of a democracy. When there’s an election, the candidate who gets more votes is the one who takes office. When a bill is passed through Congress and signed by the president, it’s now the law. And when you lose, you don’t get to demand that your agenda be enacted, for no reason other than that you’d prefer it that way. If you want a bunch of policy changes, you have to win an election, then pass that agenda through the legislative process. That’s how it works. Baseball players who strike out don’t get to just demand that they be given a triple or else they’re going to set fire to the stadium.

—Paul Waldman, “Memo to Republicans: You Lost. Now Deal with It

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Set This House on Fire

A continuing resolution funding the U.S. government expires Monday, Sept. 30, and without new funding legislation, federal agencies will be forced to shut down. The Treasury secretary has notified Congress that if the federal debt ceiling is not raised, then by Oct. 17 the United States will be unable to borrow to pay its bills. (For more detail, see “Shutdown vs. Default: The Relative Impact” [NYT 9/23/13].) For months, and still, at this late hour, Republicans in Congress have been threatening to refuse to vote for any debt ceiling increase unless all federal funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is stripped away. Republicans are divided over how hard to push the issue, but so far the hard-liners have refused to yield.

The White House and congressional Democrats say the Affordable Care Act, passed in March 2010 and upheld in a 2012 Supreme Court decision, is the law of the land and is nonnegotiable. “This is it. Time is gone,” warned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Sept. 27. “Here’s a president who less than a year ago won election by five million votes. Obamacare has been the law for four years. Why don’t they get a life and talk about something else?”

20 Treats Now!

Now get this: In an effort to win agreement from hard-line House Republicans to vote to raise the debt limit, GOP leaders have put forward a tantalizing wish list of just about everything they (that is, their campaign contributors) have ever wanted. The Republican caucus is still some 15 members away from enough votes to support a debt limit measure. If the reluctant representatives were to agree, the Republicans would be sending to the Senate the following list of demands in exchange for votes on what used to be, in olden tymes—say, before January 2009—a fairly routine legislative procedure. (Congress raised the debt ceiling 7 times under George W. Bush, 18 times under Ronald Reagan.)

Roll Call reports, “According to a document obtained by CQ Roll Call, that ‘wish list’ contains 20 ‘additional options’ for the debt limit bill, on top of four principles in the ‘Core Package’—a one year debt limit increase for a one year delay of Obamacare, the agreement of tax reform instructions and the Keystone pipeline.

“The 20 additional options, according to the document, are:

Budget ClashEconomic Growth

1. Offshore Energy Production

2. Energy Production on Federal Lands

3. Pipeline Permitting Reform

4. Coal Ash

5. Prohibit EPA from Regulating Greenhouse Gases

6. REINS Act

7. Regulatory Process Reforms (APA)

8. Consent Decree Reform

9. Regulatory Flexibility Improvements

10. Block Net Neutrality Regulations 

graphicNon-Health Care Reforms:

1. Federal Employee Retirement Reform, which Republicans estimate will save $20 to $84 billion.

2. Eliminate Dodd-Frank Bailout Fund, which they estimate will save $23 billion.

3. Eliminate Mandatory Funding for CFPB, with estimated savings of $5 billion.

4. Require SSN to Receive Child Tax Credit, with estimated savings of $7 billion.

5. Eliminate Social Service Block Grant, with estimated savings of $17 billion. 

Health Care Reforms:

GOP descends1. Increase Medicare Means Testing, which Republicans estimate will save $56 billion.

2. Reduce Medicaid Provider Tax Gimmick, which Republicans estimate will save $11 billion.

3. Medical Liability Reform, with estimated savings of $49 billion.

4. Disproportionate Share Hospitals, with estimated savings of $4 billion.

5. Eliminate Public Health Slush Fund

 

Well, that’s not asking much. Anything else we can get you?

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect comments, “I’m sure that if you asked them the logical question—Are you people insane?—they’d respond that this is an opening position for negotiations, and we can go from there. Sure, maybe we won’t get everything on the list, but maybe we could bargain it down to, say, delaying the ACA for a year, handcuffing the EPA, the Keystone XL pipeline, and cutting money for public health.”

Once There Was a Surplus

Remember, America, George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus when he succeeded Democratic president Bill Clinton in January 2001. Projections released by the Congressional Budget Office in January 2005 showed that “changes in law” enacted since January 2001 had increased the federal budget deficit—which, again, had not existed, when Bush took office—by $539 billion. By January 2005, tax cuts along with defense and homeland security expenditures accounted for 85% of that deficit. Only six months into Bush’s first term, after Congress (with help from Democrats) passed a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut, the Associated Press reported that “the Treasury Department was tapping $51 billion of credit in order to pay for the budgetary cost of the first round of Bush tax cuts’ rebate checks.”

Think Progress observed in 2011, “The opponents of the tax cut turned out to be right. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts combined have blown a $2.5 trillion hole in America’s budget and created deficits stretching on for years.”

See “2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began” (LNW 7/20/11)

 

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Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

“Where is our honor? Where is our valor? Where is our sacrifice?” —Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), leading opposition to Veterans Jobs Corps Act

“I care deeply about the veterans. I care deeply about housing and helping the veterans who have fought for their country.” —Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), assisting the opposition

“This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work. Lowering veteran unemployment is something both parties should be able to agree on—even in an election year.”Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

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The next time you hear Republican politicians praising “our brave men and women in uniform,” remember that all but 5 G.O.P. senators voted No on the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012. The bill failed, 58–40, on a procedural vote, just two votes short. This bipartisan bill would have provided $1 billion over five years to help up to 20,000 veterans find work in their communities. All Democrats voted for the bill. The Republicans who voted Aye are Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine; Scott Brown (MA); and Dean Heller (NV). Two Republicans did not vote. (In the Obama years, 51 votes is no longer a majority. Because the G.O.P. filibusters all legislation, 60 votes are needed.) Now the Congress is on recess till after election day—the earliest pre-election vacay since 1960—and Republicans will be busy blaming Obama and the Democrats for the underperforming economy.

Now, in the federal budget, $1 billion is not a large amount, and, in our humble opinion, even as a down payment this would be a pathetically small investment when the unemployment rate of veterans is officially 10.9% (certainly higher in fact). Further, this money would have been “paid for”: it would not have added to the federal debt because Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) ensured that funding would have come in part from Medicare providers and suppliers who are delinquent on their tax bills. Remember also that during the George W. Bush years, the enormous costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were never part of the official budget of the United States, but were routinely allocated through “emergency supplementals”. According to the National Priorities Project, costs of these two wars so far total $1.38 trillion (with Iraq at $807.4 and Afghanistan at $570.9 billion). But $1 billion for job training that would help 20,000 veterans, said Republican senator Tom Coburn, was a mere “political exercise” and a waste of time, as the House of Representatives would not pass it anyway.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

In addition to creating jobs for veterans as police officers, firefighters, first responders, and restorative conservationists, the Veterans Job Corps Act would have also extended the critical Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP provides employment, education and entrepreneurship advice for troops separating from the service, and to veterans and their spouses after they’ve left the military. The VJC would also require states to consider military training and experience in granting credentials and licensure for EMTs, nursing assistants and commercial driver’s licenses.

A New York Times editorial in favor of the bill pointed out:

The bill gives priority to those who served on or after 9/11, with good reason: the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan hit 10.9 percent in August, compared with 8.1 percent nationally. This is a time of persistent homelessness and unemployment among veterans, and record suicides among veterans and active-duty service members, many of them stressed by the burdens of two long wars. It makes sense for the 99 percent of Americans to find new ways to pay their debt to the 1 percent who serve in uniform. [LNW’s emphasis]

To most people, Senator Murray’s bill would seem like one decent way to do that. But not if you’re one of those Republicans in Washington who thinks it’s more important in an election year to deny Democrats a success or accomplishment of any kind.

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For the last word here, let’s listen to the occasionally candid and revealing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as he gives away the game just before the 2010 mid-term elections:

The single most important thing we [congressional Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

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See also:

They Need to Do Their Job: Obama Bitch-Slaps G.O.P. Deficit Hardliners, Hell-Bent Extremists” (LNW 7/1/11)

2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began” (LNW 7/20/11)

Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb: Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans” (LNW 7/20/11)

Grinch Wins Plastic Turkey Award: Pentagon Demands Reimbursement of Signing Bonuses from Disabled Vets” (LNW 11/19/07)

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What a Deal

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Is This What “Winning the Future” Feels Like?

“Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.”

—Joe Nocera, “Tea Party’s War on America” (see below)

“With all this incessant emphasis on deficit reduction, it’s going to be extremely tough to convince people that we actually might need to spend some money right now, in the short run, to help get this economy out of neutral.”

Jared Bernstein, former White House economic advisor (see below)

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Well, gentle readers, our weekend of faxing earnest, carefully crafted letters to Democrats in Congress (“Tell Obama to Use the Constitutional Option”) had the usual, predictable result.

Below are a few selections of choice commentary on the agreement reached Sunday by Senate leaders Reid and McConnell and Obama—but not yet voted on by Congress. The Senate is expected to pass it today. The House may vote by this evening, though large numbers of Pelosi’s and Boehner’s representatives may yet balk.

[ Timeline of debt ceiling negotiations ¶ How the plan would work ¶ Text of the bill ]

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New York Times editorial: “To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal

. . . a nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists. It will hurt programs for the middle class and poor, and hinder an economic recovery.

. . . this episode demonstrates the effectiveness of extortion. Reasonable people are forced to give in to those willing to endanger the national interest.

Paul Krugman (NYT): “The President Surrenders

. . . the deal itself . . . is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status. . . .

Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.

. . . It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.

Joe Nocera (NYT): “Tea Party’s War on America

America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse. (Incredibly, the Democrats even abandoned their demand for extended unemployment benefits as part of the deal.) . . . The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.

. . . What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. . . . Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

One thing Roosevelt did right during the Depression [as opposed to 1937 spending reductions] was legislate into being a social safety net to soften the blows that a free-market economy can mete out in tough times. During this recession, it’s as if the government is going out of its way to make sure the blows are even more severe than they have to be.

. . . Obama should have played the 14th Amendment card. . . . Yes, he would have infuriated the Republicans, but so what? They already view him as the Antichrist. . . . Inexplicably, he chose instead a course of action that maximized the leverage of the Republican extremists.

Steve Benen: “Don’t Call It a Compromise

I’ve seen several reports on the debt-ceiling framework describe it as a “compromise” between Republicans and Democrats. That’s far too generous a term. Is this a deal? Sure. Is it an agreement? Absolutely. Can it fairly be characterized as a “compromise”? Not at all.

Republicans threatened to crash the economy, on purpose, unless a series of radical demands were met. Democrats made an effort to lessen those demands and make them less painful than intended. The result, not surprisingly, is rather ugly, which is to be expected.

The debt-reduction framework isn’t a compromise; it’s a ransom. . . . If you’re looking for good news in this agreement, you’ll be looking for a long time. Overall, what we’re left with is bad news and less-bad news.

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Memo to White House: Time to Use the Constitutional Option

Friday, July 29th, 2011

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It’s Time to End This Hostage Crisis

This has gone far enough. Whereas Speaker John Boehner has failed to persuade his own party in the House to support his proposed bill to lift the debt ceiling short-term—which the Senate and the President would have rejected anyway—and whereas there is no Senate bill that the House would pass, and whereas the U.S. is projected to begin defaulting on debt obligations on August 2, the time has come for President Obama to exercise the constitutional (or 14th Amendment) option to raise the debt ceiling by executive order. It is time to end this hostage crisis. Section 4 of Article XIV (14th amendment) of the Constitution reads in part:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

The 14th Amendment was passed in the wake of the Civil War to settle matters of wartime debt, while the debt ceiling itself dates back to 1917 when the U.S. was entering World War I. (See “Smash the Ceiling” by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker.)

Former President Clinton, who left office with a projected budget surplus and therefore has debt reduction credibility, has publicly said at least twice that the constitutional option should be used if nothing else works to avert default on federal debt obligations. The Democratic members of the House of Representatives, including minority leaders Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, have urged the President to use this option to protect the nation’s economic stability and pledged that their members will stand behind him if he does.

Jack M. Balkin, a constitutional law professor at Yale University (and blogger at Balkinization) who has been cautious about the use of the 14th Amendment option, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “You’re not supposed to hold the validity of the public debt hostage to achieve political ends.” He adds, “Section 4 is a fail-safe that only comes into operation when everything else is exhausted.” President Obama himself taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, so he is familiar with the arguments for and against. Mostly his administration has stressed the arguments against, which in the opinion of many only weakened his bargaining position against the all-or-nothing Tea Party faction of the House Republicans.

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Wake Up to the National Security Threat
From Our Own Domestic Extremists

Monday, July 25th, 2011

“Just supposing our national government . . . had fallen into the hands of men loyal to an alien power, then would the people yank the usurpers out of office at once?”

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In 2007 we asked, “Is the U.S. an Occupied Nation?” With the country exhausted by war and the Gulf Coast still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Bush-Cheney and other Conservatives in High Places regularly showed such indifference, at best, to the well-being of ordinary Americans that it really felt as though the government had been abducted.

Now, with America pushed to the brink of an abyss by an extremist few of those same so-called conservatives—the very ones who drove up the debt in the first place—is it possible that the greatest threats to America’s financial, social, and political security have offices in the U.S. Capitol and are paid $174,000 per year, with benefits?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thinks so, and in “Republicans, Zealots, and Our Security” he makes the case in convincing detail.

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage. 

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength—and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer . . . comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. . . . But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. . . . in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default.

(Meanwhile, Huffington Post business editor Peter S. Goodman comes right out and says that the congressional Republicans “are acting like terrorists. . . . willfully and intentionally driving us to the edge of a cliff, using the national interest as a hostage.”)

What is it exactly that these so-called conservatives are conserving?

Nicholas Kristof warns that even the slightest, briefest default could drive interest rates higher—“on mortgages, car loans, business loans and credit cards”—leading to a deeper deficit, purportedly the very thing the House Republicans say they’re determined to reverse. The Congressional Budget Office projects that a 1% rise in interest rates could add more than $1 trillion to borrowing costs over the next 10 years.

Republican zeal to lower debts could result in increased interest expenses and higher debts. Their mania to save taxpayers could cost taxpayers. That suggests not governance so much as fanaticism.

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“Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb”

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans

[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

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“From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.” —Diderot

House Republicans laughed a former George H. W. Bush economist out of the room on Monday when he tried to warn them of the dire consequences of a U.S. debt default, according to John Stanton of Roll Call. Stanton says the number of let-it-crash denialists among House Republicans is actually increasing. They think the Aug. 2 deadline is artificial. The Honorable Louie Gohmert of Texas said in a radio interview that the Aug. 2 deadline is only for the convenience of the president so he can have a big Aug. 4 birthday celebration fund-raiser. Freshman Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) says there’s nothing to worry about: “In fact, our credit rating should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.” The crazy just keeps on comin’. And the clock—or is it a time bomb?—is ticking. The rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s may not wait till Aug. 2 to downgrade the United States of America’s credit rating. Then what?

Congress raised the debt ceiling 7 times under George W. Bush, 18 times under Ronald Reagan. But that was then. There is serious concern in the Republican leadership (in the Senate, for example) that House leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor cannot control the fire-eating Tea Party members, who distrust them and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). The radicals have principles; they don’t give a damn about reelection. Many of them scorn the Senate’s “Gang of Six” plan as a betrayal because it involves revenues and does not cut spending deeply enough.

Self-styled Tea Parties of populist anger at overtaxation and nonrepresentation began to sprout at first spontaneously in 2009 (though maybe their rise should be dated to Sarah Palin’s “goin’ rogue” rallies of late 2008). As the G.O.P. and right-wing self-interest groups including Fox News began to feed the nascent movement with the steroids of corporate money and tactics training to direct their anger against the Obama administration’s health care reform initiative—and then against everything else Democrats were up to—political observers on the right and left voiced misgivings that in dispensing the stimulants, the Koch brothers, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and other Dr. Frankensteins were creating a monster that they would not be able to control. (Remember the GOP House members standing on the Capitol building porches waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and egging on the Tea Party protesters down below shouting “kill the bill!” as the House was debating the health care bill  in March 2010?)

Republicans “won’t be satisfied until the family is out on the street.”

“I certainly think you will see some short-term volatility. In the end, the sun is going to come up tomorrow.” —Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, president, House Republicans’ freshman class

The New Yorker’s George Packer begins a Talk of the Town piece (July 25 issue) about the debt-ceiling fight titled “Empty Wallets” with a heart-grieving anecdote of a jobless Florida man whose daughter has bone cancer. Danny Hartzell is packing up the family to move in with a friend in Georgia with whom he has reconnected on Facebook, hoping for a fresh start. After being terminated from his $8.50 an hour job at Target—business is slow—his last biweekly paycheck after taxes is $140. Hartzell is hit by one ax-blow of bad luck after another, mostly in the form of Republican-legislated cuts of unemployment benefits or access to health care (votes cast by men and women who have health insurance).

Turning to the debt-ceiling impasse between Congress and President Obama, Packer compares the struggle as “like members of an ordnance-disposal unit arguing about how to defuse a huge ticking bomb.”

Obama, securely in character, called on all sides to rise above petty politics, acknowledged the practical realities of divided government, and proposed a grand compromise that would lower the deficit by four trillion dollars. According to the Times’ Nate Silver, Obama’s offer, in its roughly four-to-one balance between spending cuts and revenue increases, falls to the right of the average American voter’s preference; in fact, it may outflank the views of the average Republican. . . . 

The Republicans are also securely in character. They’ve rejected everything that the President has proposed, because Obama’s deal includes tax increases and the closing of loopholes for hedge-fund managers and corporate jets and companies that move offshore. Ninety-seven per cent of House Republicans have taken something called the “No Tax Pledge.” . . . Representative Paul Ryan’s ten-year budget plan, which remains his party’s blueprint for the future, would impose a fifty-percent cut on programs like food stamps and Supplemental Security Income, which, as long as Danny Hartzell remains jobless, represent the Hartzells’ only income. By the last day of June, the Hartzells had twenty-nine dollars to their name. The Republicans in Congress won’t be satisfied until the family is out on the street. 

Packer notes that the sociologist Max Weber in an essay on politics as a vocation distinguished between “the ethic of responsibility” and “the ethic of ultimate ends”—between those who act on the basis of practical considerations and those motivated by a higher conviction, acting on principle “regardless of consequences.” They are opposites, but someone suited to a career in politics forges some kind of union of the ethics of responsibility and ultimate ends.

On its own, the ethic of responsibility can become a devotion to technically correct procedure, while the ethic of ultimate ends can become fanaticism. Weber’s terms perfectly capture the toxic dynamic between the President, who takes responsibility as an end in itself, and the Republicans in Congress, who are destructively consumed with their own dogma. Neither side can be said to possess what Weber calls a “leader’s personality.” Responsibility without conviction is weak, but it is sane. Conviction without responsibility, in the current incarnation of the Republican Party, is raving mad. . . . It was Lenin who first said, “The worse, the better,” a mantra adopted by elements of the New Left in the nineteen-sixties. This nihilistic idea animates a large number of Republican officeholders.

Packer concludes with the pessimistic observation that Barack Obama—whom we dimly remember as a man elected president on slogans of “hope” and “change” (our characterization, not Packer’s)—“is now the leading champion of fiscal austerity, and his proposals contain very little in the way of job creation. . . . he no longer uses his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion, to keep the country focussed on the continued need for government activism.”

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Top photo from the film The Hurt Locker (2008). Bottom: detail of photo by Dorothea Lange for the federal Resettlement Administration, taken in Blythe, California, August 17, 1936. Found at Shorpy.com.