How Ted Cruz May Save The Republican Party

Ezra Klein wrote a piece the other day titled, “If Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Democrats would have to invent  him.” The great Ezra ended with this:

Over the last 24 hours I’ve seen some Republicans complaining that President Obama and the Democrats are trying to break them. Their anger is misplaced. They should be angry at Ted Cruz for putting Republicans in a position to be broken.

I am sure there are many Republicans who are angry at Ted Cruz. But one of them isn’t Mitch McConnell. In fact, if Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Mitch McConnell would have to invent him. Why? Because Cruz has done what I didn’t think it was possible to do: make McConnell look good in comparison.

Mitch McConnell is as shrewd as he is slimy. And anyone, even a Ted Cruz, who can make the greasy craftiness of the Republican Senate Minority Leader look like adult reasonableness is now an asset to a Republican Party that is in desperate need of a public relations makeover. And the extreme behavior of Ted Cruz, Jim DeMint, and that strange gaggle of goofy zealots in the House of Representatives have allowed the establishment extremists, people like McConnell and Orrin Hatch and others, to come off sounding like voices of reason.

This development, my friends, should trouble Democrats.

McConnell, who has been a part of the Republican wrecking crew, has now assured the country there will be no more government shutdowns. Ahh. Ain’t that nice? Hatch, who is about as conservative a man as one would ever want to meet, called out DeMint’s groupthink tank, the Heritage Foundation. How great was that? Other Republicans, right-wingers all, have denounced the tactics of torpedo-toting teapartiers and are getting credit for doing so from the Beltway press corps.

One might be tempted to think that such behavior is a good thing, particularly a good thing for the country. But in this case it’s not, unless we all want to live in a society governed by ultra-conservative, if not ultra-nutty, policymakers. The reason that what we see happening on the right may spell trouble for Democrats and ultimately for the country is pretty simple. It’s all tied to the concept of triangulation. Let me borrow an image from Wikipedia’s entry on it:

What we will soon see, as 2014 gets here or before, are Republicans like McConnell (who is up for reelection next year and who is hoping to become Majority Leader if his party can win six extra Senate seats) trying to put themselves firmly, if falsely, on that “middle ground.” They will first confess that shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare was extreme behavior. Then they will concede that threatening the full faith and credit of the country was also out of line. They will then pivot to and run on two issues: anxiety over ObamaCare and anxiety over the national debt. They will say that there has been extreme behavior on both sides, but now the real threat to the country is with Democrats, who want to impose on the public a monster bureaucracy—an imposition that is now off to a horrendous start—and who want to raise more taxes and spend more money despite the $17 trillion debt we face.

While all this triangulating is going on next year, the anti-establishment extremists like Ted Cruz and the reactionary, recalcitrant radicals in the House will continue to do what it is they do. But increasingly more “adult” Republicans will speak out against them, posing as moderates who just want to tame the bureaucracy and get a handle on our debt. In reality, though, they share the goals, including many of the same social issue goals, of the anti-establishment radicals. They differ mainly in the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve them. And as time passes and the campaigns begin, money from business interests will flow into the coffers of non-Tea Party Republicans, money that once poured into the campaigns of those anti-establishment right-wingers who have caused much of the dysfunction we see today.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all this will be easy for Republicans to accomplish, particularly because Democrats have a lot of ammunition with which to fight back, mainly the ability to tie McConnell and other Republicans to Tea Party radicalism. But the triangulation strategy represents the best way Republicans have for winning the Senate and for keeping the House in Republican hands, especially if the press continues to present McConnell and other establishment extremists as the adults in the room.

As for 2016, such triangulation is how Chris Christie will, I predict, eventually win the Republican nomination for president. (He has already begun to use a version of the strategy and right-wing donors are anxious to dump truckloads of cash on him.)  Some people believe that the governor of New Jersey, who dared put his arm around Hussein Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, is too disliked by primary-dominating conservatives to get the nomination. But how soon we forget that John McCain and Mitt Romney were also hated by those same conservatives. All it takes to get these people on board, albeit reluctantly, is the idea that Republicans can actually win a national election and achieve the power necessary to undo the damage that the Kenyan socialist has done to the country. It will also become obvious that most of the money men on the right, unfettered by campaign finance laws, are betting on Christie.

And should Chris Christie win not only the GOP primary but the national election, and should Republicans also win control of both houses of Congress, look out. A President Christie would be, in terms of the things Democrats hold dear, a very radical president indeed. Whether it is cutting rich people’s taxes, cutting government services and social programs, deregulating the economy, decimating unions, rolling back reproductive and gay rights, or any number of things on the reactionaries’ wish list, Christie and a Christie-friendly Congress could change the country in ways Ted Cruz only dreams of.

And, alas, all of it could happen thanks to him.

We Now Know How Many Dangerous Radicals There Are In Congress

Here is the sad reality facing the country:

The final vote in Congress to temporarily open the government and to temporarily preserve the full faith and credit of the United States:

House of Representatives: 285 in favor (198 Democrats and 87 Republicans) and 144 against (all Republicans).

Senate: 81 in favor (52 Democrats, 27 Republicans, 2 Independents) and 18 against (all Republicans).

Thus: We now know there are at least 144 Tea Party radicals in the House (62% of all Republicans) and at least 18 Tea Party radicals in the Senate (40% of all Republicans). That’s about 58% of all congressional Republicans. Think about that: 58% of all congressional Republicans are nutty enough to wreck the economy in the name of Tea Party radicalism.

Let me repeat: Nearly 6 in 10 of the current complement of Republicans in Congress are radical enough to not only shutdown the government and keep it closed, but radical enough to severely damage the credit worthiness of the our centuries-old Republic and blow a hole in the economy.

God bless America.

Odds and ends:

♦ Democrats, once again, saved the country from utter chaos and ignominy.

♦ My own congressman, Ozark Billy Long, voted with the radicals. He obviously doesn’t give a damn about the viability of government or the full faith and credit of the United States. But the local paper and local television news outlets will never question him about his irresponsible vote or hold him accountable for it.

♦ Every single Missouri Republican in the House voted with the zealots. Yes, every one of them.

♦ A strange woman, apparently an official House stenographer, began yelling on the floor of the House during last night’s vote, saying something about our Freemason Constitution and that God will not be mocked. Poor lady. God is mocked every day in that Republican-controlled chamber and obviously since God has thus far failed to stop the mockery, she thought she’d give him a hand.

♦ After the Republican surrender, Rush Limbaugh now says the Republican Party is “irrelevant” and “made a decision not to exist.” God, for once I hope he’s right.

♦ The quack masquerading as a doctor on Fox “News,” Keith Ablow, said that President Obama’s language about the GOP “holding the whole country hostage” is simply the President “going back to when his dad abandoned him, when his mother left him with his grandparents.” Obama is, said the quack, extending his victimization “to this country.” Just part of another day of fair and balanced broadcasting on the Republican News Channel.

♦ Georgia congressman Jack Kingston told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes last night that the estimated $24 or 25 billion or so that the government shutdown and debt default scare cost the American people was worth it because it allowed Republicans to send a message to the public that they don’t like ObamaCare. I don’t think such stupidity needs any additional commentary from me.

♦ Club for Growth and Heritage Action and Freedom Works all put out an alert on the vote, warning legislators they would be using it to score their loyalty to Tea Party conservatism. We know it worked because of the 62% of House Republicans who followed the zealous lobbying groups and the 40% of Senate Republicans who did so. If that doesn’t scare you, you are unscareable. Right wing lobbyists are slowly ruining the country.

♦ We now know that Tea Party Conservatism doesn’t believe in personal responsibility—they oppose the individual mandate in ObamaCare that the Heritage Foundation originally championed—or in national responsibility—they voted to say to hell with paying the country’s bills. What kind of conservatism is that? If Edmund Burke were alive, he would fall over dead.

♦ How petty are these extremists? Look at this:
russert tweet

Obama’s “victory speech” was, of course, not a victory speech. He could have rubbed it in the faces of these extremists, but he didn’t. Why? Because unlike his political enemies, he has class.

♦ I want to mention one particular senator who gets much credit for being a reasonable Republican. He ain’t. His name is Tom Coburn and he’s a right-wing freak. He has been a cheerleader for not raising the debt ceiling. As Huff Po reported:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) voted with Cruz, but nevertheless said he thought the fiasco had been entirely predictable because it was obvious Democrats and the president would never end Obamacare, and they control two of the three relevant parts of government. He had a tart piece of advice for Cruz and others: “Have a coordinated strategy that’s based on reality rather than one that’s not.”

Coburn voted with Cruz and then advised him to have a strategy based on reality? Thank God Coburn is getting the hell out of the Senate. He has lost his mind.

♦ Finally, for the record, here are all the Republicans who voted against the shutdown-debt ceiling deal. May their names live on in utter infamy:

HOUSE:

Robert B. Aderholt (AL) Justin Amash (MI) Mark Amode (NV) Michele Bachmann (MN) Andy Barr (KY) Joe L. Barton (TX) Kerry Bentivolio (MI) Rob Bishop (UT) Diane Black (TN) Marsha Blackburn (TN) Kevin Brady (TX) Jim Bridenstine (OK) Mo Brooks (AL) Paul Broun (GA) Larry Bucshon (IN) Michael C. Burgess (TX) John Campbell (CA) John Carter (TX) Bill Cassidy (LA) Steven J. Chabot (OH) Jason Chaffetz (UT) Chris Collins (NY) Doug Collins (GA). Michael Conaway (TX) John Culberson (TX) Ron DeSantis (FL) Jeffrey Denham (CA) Scott DesJarlais (TN) Sean Duffy (WI) Jeffrey Duncan (SC) John J. Duncan Jr.(TN) Renee Ellmers (NC) Blake Farenthold (TX) Stephen Fincher (TN) Chuck Fleischmann (TN) John Fleming (LA) Bill Flores (TX) Randy Forbes (VA) Virginia Foxx (NC) Trent Franks (AZ) Scott Garrett (NJ) Bob Gibbs (OH) Phil Gingrey (GA) Louie Gohmert (TX) Robert W. Goodlatte (VA) Paul Gosar (AZ) Trey Gowdy (SC) Kay Granger (TX) Sam Graves (MO) Tom Graves (GA) Morgan Griffith (VA) Ralph M. Hall (TX) Andy Harris (MD) Vicky Hartzler (MO) Jeb Hensarling (TX) George Holding (NC) Richard Hudson (NC) Tim Huelskamp (KS) Bill Huizenga (MI) Randy Hultgren (IL) Duncan D. Hunter (CA) Robert Hurt (VA) Bill Johnson (OH) Sam Johnson (TX) Walter B. Jones (NC) Jim Jordan (OH) Steve King (IA) Jack Kingston (GA) Doug LaMalfa (CA) Raul Labrador (ID) Doug Lamborn (CO) James Lankford (OK) Robert E. Latta (OH) Billy Long (MO) Frank D. Lucas (OK) Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO) Cynthia M. Lummis (WY) Kenny Marchant (TX) Tom Marino (PA) Thomas Massie (KY) Michael McCaul (TX) Tom McClintock (CA) Mark Meadows (NC) Luke Messer (IN) John L. Mica (FL) Candice S. Miller (MI) Jeff Miller (FL) Markwayne Mullin (OK) Mick Mulvaney (RC) Randy Neugebauer (TX) Kristi Noem (SD) Richard Nugent (FL) Alan Nunnelee (MS) Pete Olson (TX) Steven Palazzo (MS) Steve Pearce (NM) Scott Perry (PA) Tom Petri (WI) Joe Pitts (PA) Ted Poe (TX) Mike Pompeo (KS) Bill Posey (FL) Tom Price (GA) Trey Radel (FL) Tom Reed (NY) Jim Renacci (OH) Tom Rice (SC) Martha Roby (AL) Phil Roe (TN) Mike D. Rogers (AL) Dana Rohrabacher (CA) Todd Rokita (IN) Tom Rooney (FL) Dennis Ross (FL) Keith Rothfus (PA) Ed Royce (CA) Paul D. Ryan (WI) Matt Salmon (AZ) Mark Sanford (SC) Steve Scalise (LA) David Schweikert (AZ) Austin Scott (GA)  James Sensenbrenner (WI) Pete Sessions (TX) Jason Smith (MO) Lamar Smith (TX) Steve Southerland (FL) Chris Stewart (UT) Steve Stockman (TX) Marlin Stutzman (IN) William M. Thornberry (TX) Michael R. Turner (OH) Ann Wagner (MO) Tim Walberg (MI) Greg Walden (OR) Jackie Walorski (IN) Randy Weber (TX) Brad Wenstrup (OH) Lynn Westmoreland (GA) Roger Williams (TX) Joe Wilson (SC) Rob Woodall (GA) Kevin Yoder (KS) Ted Yoho (FL)

SENATE:

Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Jim Risch (Idaho), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), David Vitter (La.).

If you ever hear any of these people raging against wasteful government spending (as Tom Coburn does every time he opens his mouth) or droning on about the national debt, you can tell them to go straight to hell, as they voted to waste billions of dollars, break the legs of the economy, and thereby significantly increase the national debt.

“By Keeping Republicans Together,” John Boehner Did “The Country A Favor,” So Says Mark Halperin and Andrea Mitchell

I thought I was hallucinating. But I played it back on my DVR and it was all too real.

Wanna know why Republicans believe they can take the country to the brink of catastrophe and not pay a price for doing so? Because Beltway journalists like Mark Halperin and Andrea Mitchell will, without laughing, have this exchange on national television, on “liberal” MSNBC:

HALPERIN: The second guessing about Republicans, not just strategy but tactics throughout the last several weeks, are really gonna be extraordinary. There’s gonna be a lot of questioning about how to go forward. It’s gonna be interesting. I think Speaker Boehner has handled this in a way where he can put this on the floor, get a lot of Democratic votes. My hunch is that there are a lot of Republican votes in the Senate, which we expect. We could get a lot of Republican votes in the House and questions about his speakership, questions about his own leadership, I think may be put off.

And I think this agreement is not bad in the sense that it gives both sides a chance to try to deal with some of these bigger entitlement issues and tax issues over the next few weeks and averts the crisis. And John Boehner may have done himself and the country a favor by keeping Republicans together long enough to say, we tried a lot of different things; we made some mistakes. This is the best we can get at this point to avoid what he has said all along and believed all along was essential, which was to avoid a default by the federal government.

MITCHELL: Fair points all.

Anyone who has watched this debacle knows one thing for certain. John Boehner hasn’t handled this in any way that deserves one jot or tittle of praise. That he gets it from two Beltway reporters tells us so much about why right-wing zealots believe in their bones that they can hold the country hostage and get away with it.

Bring The Weapons Inspectors To Washington

Okay. It appears the hostages are about to be released. The kidnappers didn’t quite have the nerve to shoot the hostages in the head, although they did rough them up pretty good.

No one knows exactly how much the Republican-engineered crisis will ultimately cost the country, although Bloomberg has estimated that the 16-day government shutdown has been “draining an average of $160 million each workday,” and that’s not counting the costs associated with investors dumping short-term Treasury bills, the safest investment in the world—at least they used to be.

And how do you figure in the cost of disintegrating morale among federal employees, many of whom were labeled as “non-essential,” many of whom have worked without a raise for three years and have had to take sequestration-related furloughs even before the latest shutdown?

And how do you figure in the cost of the damage inflicted on our national prestige? How do you calculate the damage done to our sense of stability? How do you account for the damage done to our confidence in self-governance, in democracy?

And what was it all for? What was accomplished by Tea Party Republicans and the non-Tea Party Republicans who aided and abetted them? Nothing. Not a damn thing. And to make things worse, we will quite likely be back here again at the beginning of next year. Yippee.

Warren Buffett said this morning about flirting with not raising the debt ceiling:

There are certain weapons that are just improper to use against humanity, and to use this against the American public, it is a political weapon of mass destruction and both sides should say we’re not going to touch it, just like poison gas…

Perhaps, after they are finished in Syria, we could get the recent Nobel Peace Prize winners, those amazing inspectors who make up the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to come to America and dismantle the crazy law that prevents the Treasury Department from paying the country’s bills unless Congress raises the debt ceiling.

Yes, that’s it. Once the inspectors are done in Syria, where a desperate leader used poison gas on his own citizens, maybe they can come here and do their humanitarian work.

poison gas

Don’t Bomb The Hospital

As I have been watching the embarrassing and dangerous spectacle going on in Washington, several things have come to mind.

First, it has taken since 2009 to get our economy out of a very deep ditch into which ideological zealots—believers in supply-side economics and anti-regulatory policies—helped drive it. And the economy got out of the ditch without much help from conservative Republicans, who instead have done a lot to get in the way of those who, like President Obama and congressional Democrats, have been trying to fix what the zealots helped break.

Second, as everyone knows it was the unfortunate election year of 2010 that allowed Tea Party types to take over the House of Representatives—and cause much mischief in the Senate—and make a mockery out of governance. What isn’t well known, though, is the significant damage the hostage-taking strategy employed by teapartiers has done to the economy. Look at this graphic I saw on MSNBC this morning:

900 000 jobs lost

That’s nearly a million Americans who could be working but aren’t because of the fiscal madness that right-wingers have engineered since the Tea Party came to power. The source of that statistic is from an independent forecasting firm called Macroeconomic Advisers that did a study for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which is, as HuffPo described it, “one of the tireless deficit scolds encouraging Republican behavior.” 

In other words, a group of folks who have aided and abetted the scare-the-bejesus-out-of-the-public tactics of deficit-obsessed right-wingers have now figured out that the zealots really do mean to take down the economy, if Democrats don’t meet their demands. That says something important about what is going on.

Joel Prakken, who prepared the report for the Peterson Foundation, wrote:

Partisan divided government has failed to address our long-term fiscal challenges sensibly, instead encouraging policy that is short-sighted, arbitrary, and driven by calendar-based crises. Based on this report’s findings, we can assert confidently that the crisis-driven fiscal policies of the last several years have damaged our still-struggling economy. One can only hope that our policymakers will implement more sensible policy in the future.

Hope? Is that all we’re left with? We hope the zealots won’t blow up the place? Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it enough that their obsession with our long-term debt—not to mention ObamaCare—has ignored the short-term problems we face and made things worse than they should be?

As HuffPo notes:

Macro Advisers estimates that the austerity of recent years has cut GDP growth by 0.7 percent and cost 1.2 million jobs already.

Isn’t that enough? On top of that misery and on top of the previous job-killing manufactured crises, do they now have to bomb the economy with a default on our obligations and cause even more, and more profound, pain?

Thus it is that we have austerity instead of stimulus and we have dysfunction instead of cooperation. All of which leads me to something simple I have observed that is related to what is going on in our nation’s capital.

For more than a year now, a very large hospital has been under construction near my house. This hospital—825,000 square feet and costing $335 million—is a replacement for St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed in the 2011 tornado here in Joplin.

I have driven by the construction site countless times and I am always amazed at the complexity of such an undertaking. From the complicated funding of the project to the meticulous design to the massive excavation to the magic-like construction going on right now, all are products of the human mind and will.

Someday, all that painstaking planning, all that astonishing ingenuity and craftsmanship on display, will result in a state-of-the-art facility that will, in most cases, help sick people get well. And in doing so it will provide many jobs for doctors and nurses and accountants and janitors and other support staff. An awesome thing, when you think about it.

But it occurred to me that years from now, when the hospital is operating and its employees are doing their best to help the sick, some zealot with a bomb and a grievance can destroy in seconds what took years to build.

And that leads me back to what is going on in Washington, where, I suppose, we all must continue to hope that the zealots will put away their bombs and settle their grievances with government—an institution designed to “promote the general welfare”—another way.

[hospital photo: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]

How Democrats May Be Encouraging Hostage-Taking Politics

Over the weekend, a Tea Party posse took down barricades at the World War II Memorial and marched to the White’s House and dumped them, all the while appearing as if they were ready to jump the fence and lynch the Scary Negro who happens to live there. The reason these folks, some proudly waving Confederate flags, were so angry at the Scary Negro is a) because he is scary, b) because he is a Negro, or c) both.

Post image for Palin And Confederate Flag Rally Tea Party Vandals Piling ‘Barrycades’ At White HouseIf logic ruled the minds of these teapartiers, their anger would be directed at Republicans, who have shut down the government, including the World War II Memorial, and are threatening, really threatening, to sabotage the full faith and credit of the United States. But logic does not rule and lots of Americans are embarrassing themselves and the country.

The Tea Party posse, eventually clashing with Capitol police, were encouraged by both Sarah Palin and the comes-with-a-penis version of her, Ted Cruz. Palin told the crowd of veterans she was using as a political prop:

This is the people’s memorial. Our veterans should be above politics.

The penis version of Palin, who has been playing a dangerous game with the debt ceiling, told the folks:

Our veterans should be above politics. Enough games.

Besides Palin and Cruz, one of the speakers at the triggering event, misnamed the “Million Vet March on the Memorials” because a million vets didn’t show up, was a man named Larry Klayman, founder of reactionary groups Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch. He said to an approving crowd:

We are now ruled, quote, unquote, by a president who bows down to Allah. This president is not a president of “we the people.” He’s the president of his people. I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.

Klayman, who obviously has lost his mind, is one of those right-wing ideologues who tends to hate the Washington establishment, no matter who the establishment happens to be at the time, but the Scary Negro particularly drives him and his fellow travelers nuts. And they will really go off when, finally, a deal is cut to reopen the government and preserve the nation’s credit integrity, all without doing any damage to ObamaCare.

As things stand right now, the establishment faction of the hostage takers is still demanding that Democrats bless their austerity mania, expressed now through the economy-damaging sequester. And these Repubicans are saying that since they have pretty much given up on destroying ObamaCare, that Democrats should let them have their way on the budget.

As I write, Democrats, who pledged not to negotiate with the hostage takers, are in fact negotiating with the hostage takers. That is a mistake, at least right now. Once Democrats made it clear several days ago they were willing to negotiate over opening the government and raising the debt ceiling, the pressure then shifted to them to make a deal. Thus, if no deal happens, Democrats will get a lot of the blame, which will tempt Democrats to make a bad deal.

And that pressure on Democrats to make a deal, bad or otherwise, is being manifested via a new narrative going around. This new narrative was first created by Republicans, but has been picked up by reporters and pundits. It goes like this: Democrats are trying to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Republican shutdown and are now “overreaching” by refusing to agree to a deal. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell today was pushing the idea that Democrats may be overplaying their hand and that “the president is not blameless, as far as the American people are concerned.”

In an earlier show on MSNBC, I saw Dee Dee Myers, who worked for Bill Clinton, and Robert Gibbs, who worked for President Obama, also talk about how Democrats might be in some political danger, if they don’t give Republicans an honorable way out of the mess they have made. Myers suggested that Democrats may “over-read” and “over-interpret” recent polls that show Republicans are losing the PR battle.

Well, the problem is that Democrats have already given too much. Republicans in the Senate are essentially demanding that the ridiculous sequester cuts, which exist because of the last hostage crisis created by Republicans, become the norm. To try to prevent the latest hostage crisis, Democrats previously agreed to the sequester budget numbers, which are hurting the economy and many people in it, for a short period of time. But that wasn’t good enough. Republicans wanted more. And they will keep on wanting more as long as Democrats are willing to give it to them because, alas, the hostage taking is working on some basic level: Republicans are slowly starving the government and quickly destroying people’s faith in it.

I understand the dynamics of what is going on here. I understand that in order to avoid the catastrophic effects of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats may have to allow Republicans to claim they got something for their trouble. But as I learn the contours of the deal now being brokered in the U.S. Senate—which still may not be acceptable to the Boehner Nuts in the House—I am at a loss to explain just how the deal is ultimately good for the country, which, last time I checked, is why we send politicians to work in Washington in the first place.

The problem is this: Republicans have shown no sign of compromising on budget issues, particularly when it comes to raising revenues sufficient to fund a government that won’t fit into Grover Norquist’s bathtub. Thus, we will be right back here again at some point in the future. Democrats will be forced once again to make a decision about negotiating with the hostage takers or letting Republicans shoot them, or, as in the present case, cut off a couple of fingers.

I can’t help believing that if Democrats had simply stuck to their original narrative—that they will be glad to talk with Republicans after they open the government and pay the nation’s bills—that the country, in the long term, would be better off. Why? Because in the end I can’t imagine the leaders of the Republican Party, no matter how feckless and irresponsible they are, allowing the country to default on its obligations and then suffering the perhaps permanent ignominy that would accompany such an action.

All of which would have meant that we would have been done, once and for all, with hostage-taking politics. As it is, if a deal is made that Boehner will put on the House floor, it looks like the political extortion will continue.

[photo credit: Whitney Waters]

President Obama Channels James Madison On The Debt Ceiling

Our political system seems sick. Or, it seems to be broken beyond repair. However one looks at it, our constitutional architecture seems unable to save us from the ravages of a political party gone wild, from politicians with fire in their eyes and torches in their hands.

Yet, this morning I heard a very learned man tell Americans that our system of government was designed to produce—and then fix—what we are seeing today. Jon Meacham, who is among other things a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, said on MSNBC that what Tea Party Republicans are doing is not unprecedented—he cited the old “Southern Democratic caucus” that held up civil rights legislation in the U.S. Senate for part of the twentieth century—and in fact what these Republicans are doing has the posthumous blessings of, uh, James Madison, who would say if you don’t like ’em, “vote ’em out.”

Yikes. If James Madison meant to design a system in which a crazed minority of lawmakers on one side of the Capitol could severely damage the economic well-being of the entire country by forcing the government to default on its obligations, then James Madison was a bit crazed himself.

But no matter what one’s view of Madison or the other Founders is, no matter what one thinks of the design of our system of governance, as the National Journal’s Kristin Roberts points out, we fortunately have a very clear instruction in the Constitution, as it was thankfully amended in 1868, about what to do regarding raising the debt ceiling. Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads:

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Roberts writes:

Have Republicans forgotten that they too must abide by the Constitution?

The document is explicit in its instruction to America’s federally elected officials – make good on the country’s debts. “The validity of the public debt of the United States,” the 14th Amendment states, “shall not be questioned.”

This is not some arcane biblical reference that needs to be translated from scraps of parchment. In fact, its purpose and intent are fairly well documented.

The amendment is the product of a post-Civil War Congress that wanted to be sure the country would not be saddled with Confederate debt, and that the debts of United States would be honored. Then, as now, this promise written into the Constitution offered creditors confidence that lending to America – indeed, investing in America – would be safe.

“Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress,” argued Sen. Benjamin Wade, a Republican supporter of the amendment.

Indeed.

Some conservatives these days claim that there’s nothing to this debt ceiling business, that Democrats are just trying to scare everyone (never mind that Ronald Reagan tried to scare everyone too). Some, like a very strange senator named Tom Coburn, pull stunts like tearing up a symbolic credit card on the floor of the Senate, saying, “I think it’s time we quit borrowing money,” as if that’s all there is to it. As if not raising the debt ceiling is like taking the credit card from an irresponsible teenager.

Such ignorance, such dangerous ignorance, should not have a home in the brain of a sitting U.S. senator or any public official. But it does. And such ignorance has infected the American people, who, as a new poll demonstrates, are as confused about the debt ceiling as Tom Coburn is. Get this:

More than twice as many Americans believe lifting the limit means authorizing more borrowing “for future expenditures” than believe it means “paying off the debts [the federal government] has already accumulated”—62 percent to 28 percent, respectively.

The reality is that lifting the debt limit allows the Treasury Department to borrow money to pay for bills that Congress has already rung up.

When one looks at the composition of that 62% of Americans who don’t understand how the debt ceiling works, one finds that Republicans are more ignorant than Democrats:

Nearly three in four Republicans, 73 percent, said the debt limit was for “future expenditures,” but a majority of Democrats, 53 percent, also agreed. Independents, at 62 percent, fell in between the two major parties.

republicans and defaultThink about that. Three out of every four Republicans you meet on the street don’t have the slightest idea what is going on right now. And half the Democrats don’t either. Scarier than all that, though, is that 54% of Republicans polled think the debt ceiling deadline “can pass without major economic consequences.”

Yep, no big deal. A default here, a default there, and pretty soon the economy will get used to all the chaos and Republicans can go back to the echo chamber and tell themselves how brave they were for calling the bluff of Democrats—and economists.

Geeze.

Kristin Roberts notes the obvious that should President Obama unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without congressional authority, Republicans in the House will impeach him. But she makes another point about impeachment that the President should at least abstractly consider:

…others argue that if the House does nothing, and Obama refuses to step in, impeachment would then indeed be appropriate.

“Obama should be impeached if the Congress allows a default and he does nothing,” said Sean Willenz, a Princeton University history professor who has argued the merits of 14th Amendment action. “The president has taken a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. If he does not act in response to a blatant violation of the Constitution, then he will have violated his oath, and deserve to be impeached.”

Mr. Obama has said more than once that the Fourteen Amendment option that so many liberals and others are urging him to use is not a viable one as far as he is concerned. And because people should know what the President’s mindset is on this serious matter, I will here post his entire response to a question asked of him on Tuesday during his press conference:

QUESTION: Do you think you might have emergency powers that you could use after any default situation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: 

We have used a lot of our emergency powers. Jack Lew has used extraordinary measures to keep paying our bills over the last several months. But at a certain point, those emergency powers run out, and the clock is ticking. And I do worry that Republicans, but also some Democrats, may think that we’ve got a bunch of other rabbits in our hat. There comes a point in which, if the Treasury cannot hold auctions to sell Treasury bills, we do not have enough money coming in to pay all our bills on time. It’s very straightforward.

And I know there’s been some discussion, for example, about my powers under the 14th Amendment to go ahead and ignore the debt ceiling law. Setting aside the legal analysis, what matters is, is that if you start having a situation in which there’s legal controversy about the U.S. Treasury’s authority to issue debt, the damage will have been done even if that were constitutional, because people wouldn’t be sure. It would be tied up in litigation for a long time. That’s going to make people nervous.

So a lot of the strategies that people have talked about — well, the President can roll out a big coin, or he can resort to some other constitutional measure — what people ignore is that, ultimately, what matters is what do the people who are buying Treasury bills think?

And, again, I’ll just boil it down in very personal terms. If you’re buying a house and you’re not sure whether the seller has title to the house, you’re going to be pretty nervous about buying it. And at minimum, you’d want a much cheaper price to buy that house because you wouldn’t be sure whether or not you’re going to own it at the end. Most of us would just walk away, because no matter how much we like the house, we’d say to ourselves, the last thing I want is to find out after I’ve bought it that I don’t actually own it.

Well, the same thing is true if I’m buying Treasury bills from the U.S. government. And here I am sitting here — what if there’s a Supreme Court case deciding that these aren’t valid, that these aren’t valid legal instruments obligating the U.S. government to pay me? I’m going to be stressed — which means I may not purchase them. And if I do purchase them, I’m going to ask for a big premium.

So there are no magic bullets here. There’s one simple way of doing it, and that is Congress going ahead and voting. And the fact that right now there are votes, I believe, to go ahead and take this drama off the table should at least be tested. Speaker Boehner keeps on saying he doesn’t have the votes for it, and what I’ve said is, put it on the floor, see what happens, and at minimum, let every member of Congress be on record. Let them vote to keep the government open or not, and they can determine where they stand, and defend that vote to their constituencies. And let them vote on whether or not America should pay its bills or not.

And if, in fact, some of these folks really believe that it’s not that big of a deal, they can vote no, and that will be useful information for voters to have. And if it fails, and we do end up defaulting, I think voters should know exactly who voted not to pay our bills so that they can be responsible for the consequences that come with it.

There. You now know for sure what the President thinks about using extraordinary means to do what the Constitution for sure requires Congress to do, if not the President acting alone.

And, I must say, he is being quite Madisonian about it.

Two Reasons Why Boehner Is The Problem

Before too many events intervene and before we get to the end of the shutdown-default mess—if there is an end to it—two flaws in John Boehner’s character, or at least defects in his ability to lead the House of Representatives, must be examined and remembered:

1. Boehner’s Word Isn’t His Bond

Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid revealed that Boehner had reneged on a private deal the two had previously made over the Continuing Resolution, the stopgap fund-the-government bill that didn’t get passed and led to the government shutdown. As The Hill reported:

Reid said Boehner never wanted to wage a protracted battle over ObamaCare as part of the negotiations to keep the government running.

“I know that that’s not the path he preferred,” Reid said. “I know that because we met the first week we came back in September and he told me that what he wanted was a clean CR and the $988 [billion] number. 

“We didn’t like the 988 number. We didn’t like it but we negotiated. That was our compromise,” Reid added. “The exact bill that he now refuses to let the House vote on. That was our negotiation.”

Moreover:

Reid said he didn’t have to twist Boehner’s arm to get a preliminary deal on a clean stopgap.

“He twisted mine a little bit to get that number,” Reid said.

“Now he refused to let his own party vote because he’s afraid to stand up to something he originally agreed to,” he added.

So, clearly Boehner’s word is no good and if a man’s word is no good how can anyone bargain with him? (The Speaker has had a pattern of such untrustworthy behavior. See here and here, for instance.)

2. Boehner’s Dishonesty Is Breathtaking

Before he shamefully began to demagogue the issue of the “exemption” from ObamaCare for Congress and its staff—which is not an exemption at all—Boehner personally and secretly asked Democrats for help in protecting the employer contribution for health insurance premiums (misleadingly called “subsidies”) for congressional lawmakers and staff (the staff members definitely in need of the employer contribution, even if some lawmakers, those with lots of money, aren’t).

First a little background on this ridiculous issue from USA Today:

During the 2010 debate over the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment requiring members of Congress and their staffs to purchase health insurance though state exchanges. Democrats, viewing the amendment as a political stunt, co-opted the idea as their own and inserted it into the bill.

But the provision was silent about who would pay for that insurance, or how those payments would be treated. The exchanges were intended for uninsured people who couldn’t get health insurance through their employer or qualify for Medicaid. Those who had access to health benefits meeting minimum coverage levels could still purchase insurance on the exchanges — but without a subsidy and using after-tax income.

Holding members of Congress and their staffs to that standard would have the effect of stripping them of the employer-paid health coverage they currently get, which is the same as any other federal employee. So the Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule in August making clear that the government would continue to pay the employer contribution for congressional health benefits at the same rate as if members were still on the federal plan.

Grassley now says that was his intent all along. “My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen,” he told Roll Call Thursday. But because of what Grassley called a “drafting error,” the amendment left out language that would have explicitly given lawmakers the same before-tax employer contribution as any other federal employee gets.

Some of Grassley’s Republican colleagues have a different interpretation. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced an unsuccessful amendment to the spending bill that would have required members of Congress to pay the full cost of their health care.

What ultimately caused this demagogue-friendly problem is that Democrats foolishly allowed Grassley’s ill-conceived and poorly-written amendment to become part of the law and when it became clear how confused and confusing the amendment was, members of both parties sought to get relief from its potential impact. But the demagogues, like David Vitter and others, saw a political advantage in exploiting the confusion. Enter John Boehner. Politico reported:

With the federal government nearing shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner stood on the House floor Monday and called on his colleagues to vote for a bill banning a “so-called exemption” that lawmakers and staffers receive for their health insurance.

“Why don’t we make sure that every American is treated just like we are?” Boehner asked, seeking to prohibit members of Congress and Capitol Hill aides from getting thousands of dollars in subsidies for their health insurance as they join Obamacare-mandated insurance exchanges.

Yet behind-the-scenes, Boehner and his aides worked for months with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and others, to save these very same, long-standing subsidies, according to documents and e-mails provided to POLITICO. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was also aware of these discussions, the documents show.

So, we have the Speaker privately doing one thing and publicly doing another, cynically using hard-working congressional staff members as pawns in the game he is playing on behalf of Tea Party crazies.

Given these two stunning examples of a lack of integrity and a lack of honesty on the part of the Speaker of the House, Democrats should have little sympathy for him and should continue to let him twist in the wind of condemnation that is blowing into the Republican House. We can only hope that the Speaker will, in the end, have enough patriotism in his bones not to let the country default on its obligations, even if he has defaulted on his.

Barack Obama: Republican Savior?

“We’re not going to pass a clean debt limit increase.”

—John Boehner, October 6, 2013

Clearly, as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and others suggested this morning, Republicans have poll-tested the word “conversation,” as applied to the sad impasse in Washington. John Boehner used that word around twenty times during his squirmy 14-minute appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. I took the time to string together his use of the word in order to demonstrate how desperate the Speaker now is:

…we asked to sit down with the Senate and have a conversation…that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation…We’re interested in having a conversation…it begins with a simple conversation…It’s about having a conversation…It’s time for us to sit down and have a conversation…Let’s sit down and have a conversation…It’s not their fault that the leaders in Washington won’t sit down and have a conversation…The president is saying, I won’t negotiate. I won’t have a conversation…Even though President George Herbert Walker Bush had a conversation about raising the debt limit…The nation’s credit is at risk because of the administration’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation…And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us…And the president is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation…My goal here is not to have the United States default on their debt. My goal here is to have a serious conversation about those things that are driving the deficit and driving the debt up. And the president’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation about this is putting our nation at risk of default…The president canceled his trip to Asia. I assumed — well, maybe he wants to have a conversation…I’m willing to sit down and have a conversation with the President…I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation…I’ve been willing to sit down with the president and have this conversation...George, I’m ready for the phone call. I’m ready for a conversation...

That’s about one and a half per minute! How embarrassing was that appearance? How weak is this Speaker? How dumb is he? Or, rather, how dumb does he think we are?

Republicans in the House started all this madness with a weird jihadist desire to defund and destroy ObamaCare, then they said they would settle for delaying it, and now they say all they want to do is talk to Democrats, or to put it in the revealingly passive construction favored by Boehner, “have a conversation.”

Yikes. John Boehner is a pitifully puny leader whose desperation is apparent to all, except maybe himself. And what he is really asking President Obama to do is to bail him and his Tea Party friends out of a jam, a dangerous jam that threatens to wound the country for a generation or more.

How ironic it is that establishment extremists in the Republican Party need the Scary Negro in the White’s House to make some kind—any kind—of “deal” to get them off the hook and save them from Ted Cruz and the other anti-establishment extremists in the GOP.

How delicious it is that Barack Hussein Obama holds in his socialist, Kenya-birthed hands the fate of the Grand Old Party, which would surely suffer incalculable damage from the economic disorder and chaos its members say they are about to bring upon Americans.

Speaker Boehner confirmed—yes, he confirmed—Stephanopoulos’ characterization of a Treasury Department report saying that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be “unprecedented and catastrophic,” that “credit markets could freeze,” that “the value of the dollar could plummet,” that “U.S. interest rates could skyrocket,” that “the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world,” and that “there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”

Stephanopolous asked Boehner, “Do you agree with that assessment?” And the Speaker replied: “I do. And the President is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation.”

Yes, it’s all in the President’s hands. If he would only sit down and talk it would all be over. It’s that simple, said Boehner. Except, of course, it isn’t.

We all know that establishment Republicans are hoping that the President, at the last minute or before, will swoop in with some concession and save them from themselves, from their cowardice, from their failure to stand up in force to the Tea Party nuts they have so willingly used to endlessly attack the President since his election in 2008.

Political pundits are fond of talking about the extremism of a “small” group of Tea Party Republicans in the House. But these pundits rarely make the point that it is Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt and other establishment players that make possible the antics of teapartiers. Establishment Republicans are deathly frightened of what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will say about them if they dare to loudly and publicly call out the extremism and stupidity of the anti-establishment zealots that are leading their party, and possibly the country, to ruin. So, they need Barack Obama’s help.

And the President should not help them. I repeat: he should not help them.

Establishment Republicans should do the dirty but necessary work themselves or else risk sullying their party’s name and reputation for years, and elections, to come. A Democratic President should not be the savior of an out-of-control Republican Party, many members of which don’t give a damn about the welfare of the country if it means abandoning their ideological Allah.

The American people finally, if painfully, need to find out what has happened to a once-proud political party, the party, for God’s sake, of Abraham Lincoln. And Americans, many of whom are still suffering from the foolishness of Republican economic philosophy, need to know just how far this very non-Lincolnesque party is willing to go in service to a very strange and destructive god.

A Debt Ceiling Tale

Once upon a time, a tugboat captain, let’s call him Captain Cruz, had a plan to pull a very large and disabled ship, let’s call it the U.S.S. Government, toward Niagara Falls. The plan was to get an admiral aboard the large ship, let’s call him Admiral Obama, to pay the tugboat crew a ransom or else the large ship would go over the falls and crash into the rocks below.

The captain’s plan, bewildering to people on the large ship, nevertheless sounded good to the tugboat’s small crew, and the captain presented it with such confidence and swagger that the whole crew went along with it, even though some of them had their doubts about how the plan might work and some of them had suspicions about the captain’s motives.

The odd thing about Captain Cruz was that he really wasn’t the captain of the tugboat at all. He sort of took over for the real captain, who was a poor leader and wasn’t highly respected by the crew. But the real captain, let’s call him Captain Boehner, didn’t want to completely lose face with his crew, so he pretended he had wanted to pull the U.S.S. Government toward Niagara Falls all along and pretended that he was still in command of the tugboat.

Now, it came to pass that Admiral Obama was in no mood to pay a ransom to the tugboat crew. After all, he recognized that if he did so, if he gave the tugboat crew what it wanted, they would come back time after time, like Somali pirates, until the entire U.S.S. Government was looted of its treasure. Admiral Obama stood firm and told Captain Cruz, Captain Boehner, and the entire tugboat crew that he would not give into their demands. Ever.gop tugboat

It soon became clear to the tugboat crew that the plan that Captain Cruz had devised wasn’t working very well. In fact, some of the crew realized that the closer the tugboat pulled the U.S.S. Government to the falls, the harder it would be to push it back, since the waters leading to the falls were very turbulent. Besides that, some among the crew began to realize that if they were pulling the U.S.S. Government toward the falls, that would mean they and their tugboat would go over first! One among the crew, getting anxious, said after lunch one day,

It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was.

Ahh. The crew was beginning to understand just how foolish the plan was and some were looking for a way out of the trouble they had created. They wanted Admiral Obama to offer them something they could call a victory so they could turn the ship around and get back to calmer waters. One among the crew, a devilishly proud sailor, was overheard saying,

We’re not going to be disrespected. We’ve got to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.

And here is where the telling of this tale must now stop. Because the ending has yet to be written.

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huffpo on shutdown

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