Monday, July 25, 2011 at 8:00 AM
I appreciate that many of you are surprised, if not disappointed, that I have not commented on the ongoing bickering between Republicans (led by House Speaker John Boehner) and Democrats (led by President Barack Obama) over raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling.
Truth be told, I’ve just been loath to dignify the sausage-making process these politicians are engaged in with any comment. But it’s becoming a little like ignoring the proverbial white elephant (and white donkey) in the room.
So here’s my two cents worth:
The U.S. has raised its debt ceiling 74 times since 1962, including seven times during the previous presidency of George W. Bush. The U.S. has done this whenever there was a risk of its revenues falling short of its debt obligations. It’s rather like having the ability to raise your own credit card limit to pay your bills whenever the amounts owed exceed your personal income/savings. And just as you would probably abuse this option, the U.S. government has done so with reckless abandon (printing money without any real concern about making structural changes to stop piling up its debts).
So why all the fuss this time? Well, that’s the $14.3 trillion dollar question; and the answer depends on whether you’re asking a Republican or a Democrat:
Republicans insist that, despite customary practice, the time has finally come to put America’s fiscal house in order. But they are being insanely dogmatic in their insistence that the only way to do this is to cut spending on entitlement programs that generally benefit the poor and middle class. This, while refusing to raise any taxes on the rich – not even to close loopholes that give them tax breaks for using their corporate jets.
Republicans, of course, are all too mindful that the Tea Party’s clarion call to reduce the national debt and balance the budget is what marshaled voters to give the Democrats a “shellacking” in midterm elections last year. Therefore, they consider honoring this call an article of political faith (or a matter of political survival). More to the point, they consider the notion of any compromise with Democrats, which is inherent and absolutely necessary in a democracy, tantamount to treason.
Ominously, these born-again Tea Partiers do not seem the least bit bothered by the scientific certainty (based on warnings by Moody’s and other rating agencies) that failure to raise the debt ceiling would destroy the hallowed “full, faith and credit” of the United States. This would plunge the country into default for the first time in history and trigger a global financial crisis that would look more like 1929 than 2008. Nevertheless, for them, it seems the only thing more devoutly to be wished than this economic Armageddon is the religious Armageddon they’re so fond of preaching about.
I warned it would be thus:
It’s troubling enough that Tea Partiers think that they can go to Washington and get things done without working with any Democrat, including the president. But to have someone like Sen. John McCain actually fueling this fallacy is a recipe for partisan gridlock the likes of which Washington has never seen before….
(Elections becoming freak show contests, The iPINIONS Journal, October 19, 2010)
Democrats agree that the time has come to get America’s fiscal house in order. But they are quick to remind Republicans that the last time it was in order was when a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, stood firm on the balanced approach of cutting spending and raising taxes (i.e., an informed compromise) that President Obama is now proposing.
This is why Democrats insist that, given customary practice, it’s demonstrably clear that Republicans are creating an economic crisis merely to further the only agenda they’ve had since Obama was elected: to destroy his presidency.
Well that is true, making Obama a one-term President is my single most important political goal along with every active Republican in the country.
(GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, FOX News, July 10, 2011)
Frankly, it is clear to any reasonable person that Obama and the Democrats have the far more sensible position. Not least because Republicans are proposing the same fiscal policies that turned the billions in budget surpluses that Clinton left behind into the billions in deficits that Bush left. Unfortunately, negotiating with Republicans these days is rather like negotiating with suicide bombers. Yet, despite this kabuki dance (or game of chicken – complete with dueling daily press conferences), I have no doubt that the debt ceiling will be raised before the August 2 deadline.
Beyond this, though, the best way to prevent this spectacle of partisan bickering and gridlock becoming a permanent feature of American politics is for the American people to re-elect Obama and give him a veto-proof Democratic majority in both houses of Congress in general elections next year.
Alternatively, they can do McConnell’s bidding and throw him out of office. In which case it behooves them to also give the new Republican president a veto-proof Republican majority in both houses; otherwise, Democrats would surely do to that Republican president what Republicans are doing to Obama.
Having said all that, it seems clear that what troubles many Republicans is not the national debt, but the fact that Obama is the first black president of the United States. None of them would admit this of course.
But there probably isn’t a single black politician in the country who does not believe this. And no doubt it was untenable frustration in this respect that led one of them to call this spade a spade on the floor of Congress recently:
I am particularly sensitive to the fact that only this president, only this president, only this one has received the kind attacks and disagreements and inability to work; only this one. Read between the lines. What is different about this president that should put him in a position that he should not receive the same kind of respectful treatment of when it is necessary to raise the debt limit in order to pay our bills, something required by both statute and the 14th amendment? I hope someone will say that what it appears to be is not in fact accurate. But historically it seems to be nothing more.
(Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) The Hill, July 15, 2011)
Regular readers will attest to the fact that I have often criticized black politicians for playing the race card. But the only ones who have done so since Obama was elected have been white Republicans. Their brazen objective is to undermine his authority and delegitimize his presidency.
They have tried to do this, among other things, by making absurd claims about him being a Muslim who was born in Africa. Not to mention the insidious racial contempt that made them think it’s suddenly okay to disrupt the president’s State of the Union Address by shouting out jeers like, “You lie!”
So if you think it’s just a coincidence that Washington under this (first black) president is the most polarized it has been since the Civil War, you’re whistling Dixie.