Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Quick Reminder that Republicans Created the Debt Problem in the First Place

As we all wait with baited breath to see if Congress can figure out a way to raise the debt ceiling in time to avoid a catastrophic meltdown in the financial markets (all the while wondering whether Obama will exercise "the constitutional option" or whether he will gut the New Deal or the Great Society in a desperate attempt to negotiate with crazy), the New York Times reminds us that the Republicans created most of the debt that they are now saying endangers the country and, according to them, can only be dealt with by cutting services and benefits to the poor, elderly, and sick (as opposed to, say, increasing taxes on billionaries or cutting corporate tax loopholes):

This chart details how Bush policies created three times as much debt as Obama policies - and Bush's two biggest budget boondoggles (the Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars) EACH added AS MUCH debt at ALL of Obama's policies COMBINED.

So, the Republicans rack up huge amounts of debt, and then when a Democrat is in the White House, they suddenly turn around and claim that the only way to deal with the debt is to cut services and benefits to the poor, elderly, and sick (oh, and to stick it to federal workers - since I am one, I won't forget that), which just happen to be the New Deal and Great Society programs that the Republicans have wanted to get rid of for a while now. Convenient, eh? Oh, and they want to repeal Obama's health care reform because that too helps sick people, and because they refuse to face the reality that the heath care reform law saves money over the long-term.

At this point, I don't know what's the best outcome - yes, a default would be utterly catastrophic, but some of the proposals Obama seems to be entertaining in order to placate the Republicans' absolutely unreasonable demands are also catastrophic.

The Republicans agreed to raise the debt ceiling with NO STRINGS ATTACHED 7 times while George W. Bush was President and a whopping 17 times while Reagan was President - but a Democrat is President and suddenly debt is a more pressing issue than a bad economy and 9.2% unemployment? The agenda here is so blatant, Boehner might as well be wearing neon leggings.

If the Republicans are only willing to raise the debt ceiling if Obama agrees to such a terrible deal, part of me is curious to see what happens if Obama grows enough backbone to just say "no" to the hostage-takers. I mean, if he agrees to the Republicans' demands, he'll end up being a one-term President anyway (since the Republicans' demands will further weaken the economy, and they'll use any Medicare/Social Security cuts against Obama in the 2012 election [just as they did the reductions in Medicare spending in the health care reform act in the 2010 elections] - both of which will be powerful negatives against Obama) - so part of me says he might as well roll the dice with a default and try to take the Republicans down with (or instead of) him.

But all of this is so ridiculous that it simply boggles the mind - after all, the "debt ceiling crisis" could be resolved by Congress in five minutes:

Surveying the scene, perhaps everyone should take a deep breath and recall the traditional way the country has avoided default when the debt ceiling needs raising: Congress raises the debt ceiling.
It’s that simple. The same kind of “clean” debt ceiling increase that’s passed repeatedly over the past 100 years will allow the country to avoid default without tax increases, without defense cuts, and without slashing entitlement spending. Education will be spared. So will transportation, health care, farm subsidies, and everything else. The interest rates investors are charging the American government to buy our debt are extremely low right now. The world economy is suffering from an excessive demand for American debt, not by reluctance to lend. All we need to do to keep our finances flowing is to raise the statutory debt ceiling. At some point, things will change, and we may face a crisis that requires bipartisan dealmaking and “tough choices.” Right now, though, the only crisis we face is an entirely self-created one. House Republicans wanted to create a hostage situation to force President Obama to propose steep spending cuts. But when Obama came to the table with a proposal for steep cuts, it turned out that Republicans don’t actually want to sign a bipartisan deal. Which is fine. Don’t sign a deal! The absence of a deal in no way forces a crisis. Just raise the debt ceiling, fight the 2012 elections, and pick up the long-term budget issue then.
But the Republicans refuse to do that - the temptation to take hostages to advance their anti-New Deal and anti-Great Society agenda is just too great. After all, the public loves Social Security and Medicare, and cutting them is wildly unpopular - so it seems the Republicans are willing to push us to the brink of economic catastrophe in order to gut those programs against the will of the American people.

Sadly, the cynic in me doubts whether the American people will even notice - and when the Democrats get trounced again in 2012, the lesson they'll take from their loss won't be, "We should differentiate ourselves from the Republicans;" instead, they'll (wrongly) think, "we should obviously move even further to the right and be more like the Republicans." And then God help you if you're poor, sick, or old in the USA - it will suck to be you.

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