Thursday, October 10, 2013

Welcome to Crazy Town

I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or move to another country when I think about the current political mess in Washington.  We have Tea Party folk willing to shut down the government because all of the normal ways of changing a law are out of their reach.  So, to defund the ACA, which they are afraid will succeed, they are willing to directly hurt thousands of Americans and add one more drain on a still very fragile economy.  Of course, they are willing to fund parts piecemeal - fund the WWII Memorial in DC but forget the EPA and the FDA... you get the picture.  While FOX News calls it a government "slimdown," the reality is that it is being felt throughout the economy and is impacting the lives of all Americans, though clearly some much more than others.

And then comes the debt ceiling.  I have to say that I don't fully understand all of the ins and outs of the debt ceiling.  I do understand that if it is not increased, that the US government cannot pay all of its bills.  That would be devastating to the economy of the US and the world.   I also understand that even the threat of a default ripples through the skittish economy as Wall Street reacts to the slightest insecurity in the financial system.  The last time they threatened to breach the debt ceiling (2011), the Dow dropped 2000 points and the US credit rating was impacted.  A 2000 point drop is a serious hit on investments, people's 401Ks, retirement plans, etc. and that is just the impact on the US market.  Because much of the world's markets rely on US Treasury bills as the safest investment in the world, a hiccup there is felt everywhere.  Already the worldwide market seems to be reacting to the possibility of a default. 

Here's the scary part... there are Republicans who are saying that a default wouldn't be a big deal,  They are irresponsible.  Every economist is saying that at best it would be an economic catastrophe.  At worst, it would plunge us into a worldwide depression that would make the Great Depression look like a Tea Party (excuse the pun).  Of course, these are the same folk who ignore the clear scientific consensus that Global Warming is real and caused by human activity, dismiss the clear scientific consensus that evolution is the way we got here, and even question whether children should be taught science and the humanities.  Why would they listen to economists?

There is a worse group.   They are seeing breaching the debt ceiling as the best strategy to destroy the government they hate.  They believe it would be catastrophic but that would provide the easiest cover to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, the EPA, the FDA, public education, and virtually all of the other parts of government that help secure the common good.  They want to destroy the US government as it exists.  If the first group of Republicans are irresponsible, those in this group are treasonous. 

I almost want to believe those folk are truly crazy.  I feel sympathy for people with mental illness. I know it is not their fault and that they need treatment.  If those Republicans are not crazy, the other options are not good.  You could say they are stupid... or you could say they are very, very badly misled... or you could conclude they are evil.  I like crazy better.  Maybe with some thorazine they'd be OK.   Why we've allowed the inmates to run the asylum is another question... addressed in the next paragraph.

There is a third group of Republicans, possibly the most despicable of all.  They are the more moderate Republicans who see the other two and are afraid to stand against either.  They are afraid they will be Tea Partied in the next primary and will lose their power and position so they acquiesce to the crazies and allow them to set the agenda and chart the course even though they know it is insane.  They are motivated by self-preservation and lust for power, not by the best interests of their constituents or for the nation as a whole. They are not crazy.  They are despicable.

I have said before that I believe in a two party system.  Actually, I think we need more viable parties to represent a broader spectrum of views at the tables of power.   I think decisions are best made when reasonable people of a variety of understandings struggle together to make compromises that work.  I see nobody acting reasonably on the Republican side.  Literally, nobody.  I think they all need to be voted out of office so that another coalition of folk who truly represent conservative values and understandings can come to the table and wrestle responsibly.  Let the far right come to the table as well... but do not allow the tail to wag the dog any longer.  (FWIW, I'd like to see the Democrats split into multiple parties so that the true liberals get a voice at the table as well.)

1 comment:

Michael Mahoney said...

No one is really sure what would happen if we hit the debt ceiling without extending it. It's never happened (and I suspect it won't now). The Initiatives on Global Markets recently did a panel of economic experts, and the end result was a big shrug. There was no doubt that IF the US defaults on it's debts, there would be an economic calamity. The real question is, will that happen?

The debt ceiling is a funny thing. The Constitution gives Congress the power to tax, spend, and borrow money. They spend money through appropriations; these appropriations then direct the Executive Branch to do certain things and to generate revenue. When taxes don't cover the appropriations, we borrow.

So Congress directs the president to do certain things, and he does them. When the debt ceiling gets hit, he is faced with two contradictory Congressional mandates; spend the money that they have already appropriated and don't borrow.

There is a vague clause in the 14th Amendment which might give the President the authority to ignore the debt ceiling, as it would mean that he cannot carry out the other directives of Congress, and that it would cause the debt of the US to "be questioned." There are many economists who argue to eliminate the debt ceiling as a control; if Congress doesn't want to borrow, they have taxes and appropriations to control spending. In either case, the president has a duty to act in the public interest.

It's never been tested, of course, because it's never happened. And I don't think it will. Boehner is calling a vote on the debt ceiling tomorrow, it seems, as long as the president will sit down and discuss spending afterwards, which is reasonable and appropriate.