The Trinity Of Turmoil And The End Of The Republican Party

tur·moila state of great commotion, confusion, or disturbance

by 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.



  1. Seems to me, it’s time for the Democrats to invoke the words of one of the country’s truly horrible Presidents, Ronnie Reagan: “We will not negotiate with terrorists.” If anyone doubts the economic terrorist credentials of the Republican congressional right wing, they are just not paying attention.


    • Generalist,

      I think a lot about Ronald Reagan these days, as he was once one of my heroes. I just heard Rush Limbaugh yesterday praising Reagan, as the extremists these days do all the time. But they are so unwilling to admit that one of the largest tax increases in our history (in constant dollars) happened via his signature in 1982. These people are delusional ideologues who, like all delusional ideologues, are impossible to reason with. Thus, we must, as you suggest, use extraordinary measures, like the so-called constitutional option, to deal with them. We simply can’t allow them to ruin the economy–a rise in interest rates resulting from their fiddling around with the full faith and credit of the government would be potentially crippling (which may be their intent, by the way)–and President Obama is our only way of stopping them.



  2. King Beauregard

     /  January 3, 2013
  3. King B’s link of course refers to Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and it says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. The phrase in my italics and another that follows were added to clarify application to expenses of the Civil War rebellion, but the basic charge is a clear declarative sentence. The validity of the public debt shall not be questioned. This is the law and it is also common sense. When the House of Representatives spends money, it doesn’t spend it conditionally. Those bills don’t say, don’t place orders on the basis of this appropriation without warning the parties that we might decide later not to pay the bills. They spent it.

    (Note to self: when the opportunity arises, use this to point out to the grandkids how grammar really does matter.)

    Seems to me that in order to overturn a Presidential order for paying the bills under the Fourteenth Amendment, SCOTUS would have to resort to interpreting it relative to the founders’ intent and then decide that they wanted it applied only in a Civil War context. But, that is not what the Amendment says. One could make a much better case, with that kind of reasoning, that gun ownership applies only to militias, and that certainly hasn’t been the case with SCOTUS. My advice to the President is, go for it. Hell, they wanted leadership (or as some who insist on shouting phrase it, LEADERSHIP), so he ought to give them a dose.

    Thanks, King B. I too am encouraged, just by the possibility.


    • Jim,

      I haven’t read the article yet, but I discussed this possibility in my post on Wednesday. The White House has ruled out this “constitutional option,” even though the President himself has not done so literally.

      He has, though, indicated he won’t entertain a debate on the debt ceiling, and it is hard for me to understand how he can avoid such a thing unless he is willing to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment or, more radically, issue a trillion dollar coin, or, even more radically, invoke, as Lincoln did when he suspended habeas corpus, a version of emergency powers under the “suspension clause.”

      Any of these options–simply ignoring Congress is not one of them–will cause the right-wing to go nuts, possibly culminating in articles of impeachment, who knows. But what Mr. Obama needs to do, in my opinion, is to choose one of the options he has and defend it by going to the American people and explaining to them what Republicans–he needs to name names and go to their districts and states–are willing to do to them and to the country.

      I am certain they would back down very quickly and come to their senses, should he play that kind of hard ball. My problem is that I’m not sure he is temperamentally capable of playing that way. In fact, it just doesn’t seem to fit the patter of what we have seen thus far, but then the dynamics of a second term may make him very much bolder.



      • Duane, I hope you will keep your implied promise to read King B’s recommended article on the 14th Amendment. I am no expert on SCOTUS precedents, but just reading the Salon article and the Amendment leads me to believe that Congress’ law requiring this budget ceiling thing ought to be unconstitutional. Why not force SCOTUS to rule on it? My expectation would be the same result as on ObamaCare because the justices would well know the ramifications of ruling it legal and, hence, destroying the credit of the country.


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  January 4, 2013

    To all,

    And thus the stage is set, again, for another cliff.

    My sense, for now at least, is another attempt by the GOP (one tried and failed in Summer 2011) to write a “law” that funds the government. But it will be a very limited government as envisioned by the GOP. The House will approve legislation that uses incoming tax receipts to pay interest on the debt, SS payments and the salaries of military personnel. By and large that will it “it” a law that allows the President to only do very specific things until a broader bipartisan agreement to fund the entire government can be reached.

    The Senate will ignore the bill and refuse to even try to debate such. And you of course will support such Senate action, the same action that has forced us to govern by continuning resolution for now almost 4 years. We no longer engage in “budget battles” we only fight now the debt ceiling war. So who caused that disaster to happen? Might BOTH sides be the answer?

    And then we will all go up to, and maybe this time, over a cliff that does not fund anything.

    Note that last Tuesday the GOP caved and voted (only enough to pass the bill) to raise taxes by $41 dollars for every $1 dollar in spending cuts. I doubt they will do so this time around.

    If that happens and we in fact go over a cliff this time, you as well are correct that Americans will try to destroy the GOP. The majority of Americans it seems to me want socialism in America today. but just “today”. A large minority do not want such an economic system in America. If democracy holds true to form we will ultimately have a socialist economy, for a while. But then………..

    That is what Graham is saying, in my view, and whether you agree with him or not, well the “game” (which is not a game) goes on in deadly seriousness and huge consequences for America.

    Forget “Greece”. Ask yourselves instead if we should “be like France” today and tomorrow. I don’t for sure but you probably do at least to some degree.

    I would add as well, that if you and President Obama are serious in avoiding the next cliff, you better put some specific and substantial spending cuts on the table to enact into law. All you have done so far is disparge such attempts by the GOP and insist the majority take all, right out of the pockets of a minority, the “rich”.

    Ask yourselves which course more closely follows the traditional path of America. One, the “old one” is NOT to take money out of someone’s pocket to put in the pockets of the majority. If “needs” are determined then everyone else chips in to meet those needs. LIberals are now only trying (very hard) to pick the pockets of a minority because those pockets “deserve” to be picked. And all that money then goes into the pockets of the majority of voters, less government “overhead” and some debateable but “smaller pocket” for mutual defense of all Americans.



    • Anson,

      Ah, more talk of a game that is “not a game.” What an interesting game that is.

      In any case, you wrote,

      We no longer engage in “budget battles” we only fight now the debt ceiling war. So who caused that disaster to happen? Might BOTH sides be the answer?

      No, BOTH sides might not be the answer. Only one side is at present guilty of this dangerous nonsense. And that is your side.

      The 2011 fight over the debt ceiling, which produced a downgrading of our credit worthiness and the fiscal cliff idiocy we just went through, did demonstrate one thing: Republicans’ insistence that we are turning into Greece (or now you invoke France) or any other struggling European economy, is nonsense. Even with all the dangerous games Republicans played in 2011, interest rates did not go up (as Republicans keep predicting will happen any day now) and it is now cheaper than ever to borrow money and people around the world are still buying U.S. debt.

      As I have tried to tell you for three years now, our indebtedness and the weakness that comes with it, is relative to the rest of the world. We are still, by far, the safest place to invest, as long as Republicans don’t completely ruin people’s trust in our full faith and credit and our functionality as a government. I’ll admit your party is doing all it can to ruin us, but so far Democrats, mostly through appeasement, have stopped them. But this time, you all may get your way.

      And as I have also told you for years, our indebtedness is a long-term problem, which needs to be addressed. That is why I was so upset by the fiscal cliff deal. Democrats should not have taken off the table future tax increases on the middle class. The party will, in my opinion, live to regret doing that, as it will become obvious that folks will have to pay more to keep the kind of government they say they want, and most obviously to at least this liberal, we actually need (with the exception of a world-protecting military budget).



  5. genegarman

     /  January 5, 2013

    Jim’s question, “Why not force SCOTUS to rule on it”? Of course, that may be necessary, if there is a solution. I like being an optimist, even when flipping a coin and knowing the odds are even. Regardless, I spent a fifth year on the G.I. Bill at Washburn University School of Law and recall one unforgettable lesson from a professor of legal ethics: “The Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means.” Be careful for what we wish?


    • Yes, the Constitution ultimately means what any majority on the Court says it means, just as the Bible means what anyone who happens to flip through its pages says it means, or says it means to them. That’s because words have different meanings and those meanings change over time. But it’s also because it is not possible to accurately divine what was in the minds of the writers of any law (or Holy Book), as applied to the issue at hand in any instant case.


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