tur·moil: a state of great commotion, confusion, or disturbance
y now everyone who cares has heard several prominent Republicans absorb their fiscal cliff “defeat” by telling themselves, and the public, that the real fight is yet to come:
♦ over the debt ceiling ($16.394 trillion), which we technically exceeded earlier this week;
♦ over the sequester, those automatic cuts in spending that “would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs,” according to the White House and others who know what’s at stake;
♦ and over what is known as a continuing budget resolution, which is a short-term, ad hoc way of funding the things government does (the current one is good until March 27).
Let’s call these things the Trinity of Turmoil.
Now, let me give you just one example of Republican rhetoric related to this unholiest of trinities. This one is from Sen. Lindsey Graham, talking a few weeks ago on a Sunday show on Fox and responding to President Obama’s statement that he will not play the debt-ceiling game:
GRAHAM: In February or March you have to raise the debt ceiling. And I can tell you this, there is a hardening on the Republican side. We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling. We’re not going to let Obama borrow any more money or any American Congress borrow any more money until we fix this country from becoming Greece. That requires significant entitlement reform to save Social Security from bankruptcy and Medicare from bankruptcy. Social Security is going bankrupt in about 20, 25 years. Medicare is going bankrupt in 15 or 20 years. [...]
Yes, we will play that game, Mr. President, because it’s not a game. The game you’re playing is small ball. You’re talking about raising rates on the top 2% that would run the government for 11 days. You just got reelected. How about doing something big that is not liberal? How about doing something big that really is bipartisan? Every big idea he has is a liberal idea that drowns us in debt. How about manning up here, Mr. President and use your mandate to bring this country together to stop us from becoming Greece.
Forget that nonsense about “we will play the game…because it’s not a game.” (What the hell does that mean anyway?) But that Greece motif has become quite popular among Republicans. I hear them use it all the time. It sounds really scary. And it’s supposed to sound that way, since what Republicans are proposing to do to the country is much, much scarier and they want to camouflage as much of it as possible.
Let’s think really hard about what it is that Lindsey Graham said:
We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling.
He said that. He said that Republicans are not going to pay the nation’s bills, most of them being bills that Republicans have racked up over the years. He actually said that.
I watched Senator Pat Toomey on Morning Joe yesterday morning say this:
Our opportunity here is on the debt ceiling. The president’s made it very clear, he doesn’t even want to have a discussion about it because he knows this is where we have leverage.
Leverage? Ultimately the leverage he is talking about is the well-being of the economy, ours and perhaps the world. That’s his leverage. He is really saying that he will threaten at least the well-being of the nation, of you and me.
Toomey goes on:
We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown, which is what that could mean. And get off the road to Greece because that’s a road that we’re on right now. We can only solve this problem by getting spending under control and restructuring the entitlement programs. This president doesn’t want to go there. We’re going to have to force it, and we’re going to have to force it over the debt ceiling.
Ah, there’s that Greece thing again. As I said, Greece is meant to scare folks, what with all that Grecian rioting and turmoil we see once in awhile on our TVs. But what should really scare people is that Lindsey Graham and Pat Toomey and the other extremist Republicans who are talking this way really mean it. They aren’t kidding.
Toomey made it clear:
We absolutely have to have this fight over the debt limit.
I believe him. I believe that there is a contingent of Republicans in both the House and Senate who believe the thing to do to fix the country is to ruin it first.
I believe they will do it, if nothing else because they have to save face in front of their nutty electoral base, many of whom are pushing them to follow up the tough talk with action. Let me relate to you what one of those very influential wing-nut guys, Erick Erickson, wrote:
Have Republicans Boxed Themselves Into a Government Shutdown? First of all, I hope so…there are a number of Republicans who can expect primary challenges and need to show they have spines and will fight…Pat Toomey is already puffing his chest out in damage control to say the GOP must now be willing to shoot the hostage . . . er . . . shut it down for spending cuts…about the only thing the GOP can do to save face and look like they are serious is to be willing to shut it all down when Barack Obama refuses to negotiate.
See? “Save face.” I told ya. Nice stuff, no? But Erickson does say something important at the end:
The McConnell Tax Hike of 2013 has boxed the GOP in for the debt ceiling fight. If they can’t find a way to get real cuts without shutting the government down, there will be hell to pay if they cave without a shut down.
What’s important about that is this: In a weird way, Republicans agreeing to the deal on taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff has boxed them in for a fight over the debt ceiling. They don’t really have a choice, given what it is they currently stand for.
They claim, as Grover Norquist did yesterday, that they are all through with the revenue side of things. That only cutting remains. I heard Oklahoma Republican congressman Tom Cole say this morning that Democrats have had their dessert, now it’s time for the spinach.
But President Obama and the Democrats claim that the revenue side is still very much in play. That any deficit reduction will include additional revenues. So, unless Democrats are willing to slice the budget and entitlements without getting additional revenues, there is no place for Republicans to go but a shutdown of government and another downgrading of our credit rating and, well, fiscal chaos.
It’s important to understand what the Republican negotiating position is here. They are saying that in order for the country to avoid the Trinity of Turmoil, they have to get everything they want. Everything. And they are not going to give up anything to get it. Nothing. Democrats, they insist (as I heard Sen. Bob Corker insist this morning) must be willing to put on the table specific spending cuts, and spending cuts only. That’s it. That’s all they will listen to.
Thus, we all should prepare for the worst. And Democrats should be prepared, if it comes to it, to let Republicans self-destruct by trying to disrupt our economy and scare the bejesus out of people. As Erick Erickson suggested, this is a hostage situation, to be sure. Republicans are prepared, yet again, to hold the country’s well-being hostage and to shoot it if they have to. That’s what they mean by “leverage.” It can mean nothing else.
But this is a unique hostage situation. The hostage in this case cannot be killed, but only weakened. We will survive whatever it is that hostage-taking Republicans are prepared to do to us.
And through it all, we can be sure of one thing: we know the fate of every hostage taker in the end.