The House Of Babel

Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul; let them be turned backward and put to confusion that desire my hurt.”

—King David in Psalm 70:2, or Barack Obama today

Going right up to the brink of a total Homeland Security defunding, the House of Representatives, led by that pusillanimous patriot John Boehner, approved a bill that funds our nation’s mammoth security agency for, uh, one week.

And the truth is that without Democrats even the one week Band-Aid wouldn’t have been timely applied to an embarrassingly self-inflicted wound. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, curiously, wrote a letter to her members urging them to pass the short-term bill:

We are asking you once again to help advance passage of the Senate passed, long-term funding of DHS by voting in favor of a 7-day patch that will be on suspension in the House tonight.

The speculation is that Democrats only went along with this nonsense because they were promised a vote on a clean funding bill in the coming week, one that would keep the agency running until the end of the fiscal year in September, without any provisions that would limit the president’s executive power on immigration law enforcement.

Still, the fighting among Republicans—the utter confusion and disarray—was something to behold on Friday. All of it was related to the right-wing’s obsession with President Obama’s deferred action on deportation. Since immigration law enforcement is part of Homeland Security, the zealots decided that they would hold funding for the agency hostage unless Democrats in the Senate—who have been using the filibuster with Republican-like efficiency—caved in to their demands to include provisions in the law that would prevent Obama from using his executive power to pick and choose just whom he would deport.

All of this befuddlement reminded me of a tactic God used in the Old Testament. In case you don’t know, God had a habit of using confusion to get his point across, to realize his divine desires, to prevent mankind from doing what he didn’t want them to do. Most famously, in Genesis there was the Tower of Babel incident in which God feared that “the people are one and they all have one language…now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” So, God said, “let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 

That is what happened on Friday in the House of Representatives. Confusion. Republicans not understanding one another’s speech. And all of it was over whether the U.S. government ought to have an aggressive policy of deportation, dividing paperless immigrants from their paper-proper family members. The Shrub Part 3 Jeb Bush once said, before he was trying to court haters in his party:

The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally … and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work, to be able to provide for their family, yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.

That Jeb Bush, the one who sensibly talked about undocumented immigrants in the context of  “an act of love,” will decrease, and a meaner Jeb Bush will increase. That is the nature of the case, when it comes to Republican primary politics in the age of the Tea Party. But all those reactionaries, those who believe the Bible is their guide to salvation, ought to pay attention to Deuteronomy 28:

But if you don’t obey the Lord your God’s voice by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations that I am commanding you right now, all these curses will come upon you and find you:
♦ 
You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the field.

♦ Your basket and kneading bowl will be cursed.
♦ 
Your own fertility, your soil’s produce, your cattle’s young, and your flock’s offspring will be cursed.
♦ 
You will be cursed when you are out and about and cursed when you come back.
♦ 
The Lord will send calamity, confusion, and frustration on you no matter what work you are doing until you are wiped out and until you disappear—it’ll be quick!—because of the evil acts by which you have abandoned him…

♦ You might get engaged to a woman, but another man will have sex with her.
♦ 
You might build a house, but you won’t get to live in it.
♦ You might plant a vineyard, but you won’t enjoy it.
♦ Your ox will be slaughtered while you watch, but you won’t get to eat any of it.
♦ Your donkey will be stolen right out from under you, and it won’t come back.
♦ Your flocks will be given to your enemies.
♦ No one will save you…
♦ The immigrants who live among you will be promoted over you, higher and higher! But you will be demoted, lower and lower! They will lend to you, but you will have nothing to lend to them. They will be the head of things; you will be the tail.

On Friday, and so many times since Tea Party members started renting space in John Boehner’s head, we have seen “the tail” wag a very confused dog.

The Chaos To Come Will Be John Boehner’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s political life will be over on January 20, 2017, and he has some things he wants to do before the end comes.

One of those things is immigration reform. There is a bill in Congress that would go a long way toward fixing our immigration system, a bill that has been passed by the Senate—in June of 2013—with, gasp, 14 Republican votes. But that bill, a bill that would quiet all the fuss over executive orders if it reached the President’s desk, will never get a vote in the Tea Party-controlled House because Speaker John Boehner knows it would pass with Democratic votes, joined by a handful of Republicans. And the Speaker knows that if that were to happen, he wouldn’t be Speaker anymore. There would be a rebellion of historic proportions.

So, let’s get it straight: There is a bi-partisan solution to the immigration problem that has been rejected by a Republican leader because he values his leadership job over the well-being of the country. It’s pretty much that simple. And if journalists spent as much time reporting on that salient fact as they have on the issue of Obama’s executive oJohn Boehner smilerder—which he will announce tonight—an order that would only partly and temporarily address a long-standing problem, then maybe there would exist some decisive pressure on the Speaker to allow the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate to come to a vote. And we could move on to other things.

But there has been no real pressure on Speaker Boehner. He is rarely, if ever, asked a question about why he is tearing the country apart by not allowing that vote on the Senate bill. Most of the questions these days are focused on just how ridiculously nuts will his caucus go, if the President issues his order, an order that will not only help millions of undocumented immigrants and the country as a whole, but would also help Republicans in the 2016 presidential election (just ask the Chamber of Commerce). Those questions raised about the craziness of the Republican reaction are certainly legitimate, but they shield Speaker Boehner, who is the real problem in this mess, from the criticism he richly deserves.

When President Obama (Boehner’s spokesman now calls him “Emperor Obama”) finally announces his executive action on immigration reform (Boehner himself falsely but intentionally calls it “executive amnesty”), the resulting tumult, both in the Congress and throughout the foaming-at-the-mouth conservative media complex and beyond, will be Speaker Boehner’s responsibility. Whatever ugliness happens after tonight—and it will get ugly—history will blame much of it on John Boehner, even if contemporary journalists have largely given him a pass.

[AP photo]

John Boehner Finally Tells The Truth About His Party

John Boehner may not realize it, but he exposed his party for what it is.

This morning the Speaker of the House made this joke about his inability to get House Republicans to pass a debt ceiling increase:

You know, Mother Teresa is a saint now, but if Congress wanted to make her a saint, and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn’t get 218 votes for it.

Funny, right? Except not really. It’s kind of sad and pathetic. Here is the leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, the people’s house, essentially saying that his party is so irresponsible that they aren’t fit to govern. And that is their leader talking.

In the Senate, word comes today that for the third time, Republicans, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt, have blocked passage of a bill that would have extended federal unemployment benefits to almost 2 million Americans. This time there were four Republicans joining the Democrats, but in the anti-democratic, filibuster-ruled Senate, 60 votes are needed to pass anything. One more Republican was needed to get the bill through, although even if it were to pass, there’s not much hope of getting it through the Tea Party-controlled House.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to yes.” He added later:

And every week [Republicans] delay, another 73,000 Americans lose these crucial benefits — benefits that help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads while they search for a job.

It should come as no surprise that Republican Party Christians—who one of their own leaders just said would reject sainthood for Mother Theresa—don’t really give a damn about food on the table and a roof over the heads of desperate Americans.

“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.

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.

What Would Ronaldus Magnus Do?

The segment below from Saint Rachel Maddow pretty much says it all about the irresponsibility of not raising the debt ceiling and how none other than Ronald Reagan dealt with the half-nuts in his own party who thought about using the threat of default as a political instrument in the 1980s. Democrats should talk about this, leftish bloggers should post this, liberal columnists should write about this, until we are safely, if we can get safely, past this artificial, ideologically-inspired crisis.

And by the way, Democrats should dope-slap the next dumb-ass journalist who says John Boehner an Mitch McConnell have “tough jobs.” They don’t. People who shovel asphalt for a living without health insurance have tough jobs. There ain’t a damn thing tough about keeping the country from defaulting, from stopping the ideological terrorists from blowing up the economy.

All Boehner has to do is allow a clean debt-ceiling bill to come to a vote in the House—it will pass with Democratic votes and a handful of sane Republicans—and all McConnell has to do is tell his Tea Party colleagues to STFU and let the bill pass, all the while encouraging yet another handful of sane Republicans to vote with Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

After all, the worst that can happen to either of them—loss of their jobs—is nothing compared to what will happen to the country if the suicide bombers get close enough to the full faith and credit of the United States to blow it up.

And if the two Republican leaders aren’t patriotic enough to risk their government jobs for the well-being of the country, may they be forever cursed with listening to never-ending audio loops of IQ-killing Sarah Palin and Ivy League-deflating Ted Cruz defending Jesus-loving Rush Limbaugh’sgreat time in the Dominican Republic,” compliments of a secret supply of Satan-sanctioned, sausage-swelling, slut-seducing Viagra. Amen.

Watch:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Anarchy, The Republicans’ “War On Everyone,” And The Folly Of Beltway Journalists

I watched this morning as John Boehner, not content with leading a GOP war against women, minorities, and LGBT citizens, announced a War on Everyone! House Republicans will, by God, defund ObamaCare or shut down the government or blow up the economy or both! Yippee! say TV and print journalists and pundits everywhere, who love the “gamesmanship” and “brinkmanship” angle of these stories, as opposed to accurately and frequently reporting on exactly who has the dynamite in their hands.

Boehner said:

We’re going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president’s failed health care law.

Since I have a habit of taking extremists at their word, I believe “everything” means, well, “everything.”

I also had the great pleasure of watching C-SPAN this morning as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid more than once referred to House members as “anarchists,” and also said about “forty percent” of Senate Republicans were anarchists, too. He also said this:

We’re now waiting to see what the House of Representatives is going to do, how absurd it’s going to be, what they’re going to send us. We know it’s going to be something really strange and weird because the speaker has to do everything he can to mold a piece of legislation that will meet the needs of the tea party — the anarchists — and I say that without any equivocation. They do not want government to work on any level.

Finally someone in the Democratic Party leadership has described in one word, one wonderful word, what Tea Party Republicanism is all about.

For his part, although it was lost in all the wall-to-wall (and mostly inaccurate) coverage of the Navy Yard tragedy, President Obama had something to say on Monday about the dangerous strategy that John Boehner today confirmed Republicans would pursue:

Congress’s most fundamental job is passing a budget.  And Congress needs to get it done without triggering another crisis, without shutting down our government, or worse — threatening not to pay this country’s bills.  After all the progress that we’ve made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility.  It’s not what the American people need right now…

I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.  That’s never happened before.  But that’s what’s happening right now. 

You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act.  And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history and would create massive economic turmoil.  Interest rates on ordinary people would shoot up.  Those kinds of actions are the kinds of actions that we don’t need…

But in case there’s any confusion, I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations. I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.  This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis. 

Let’s stop the threats.  Let’s stop the political posturing. Let’s keep our government open.  Let’s pay our bills on time.  Let’s pass a budget.  Let’s work together to do what the American people sent us here to do:  create jobs, grow our economy, expand opportunity.  That’s what we need to do.

Meanwhile, even as Speaker Boehner ignored Obama’s unequivocal, “I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit if the United States,” as well as his plea to “stop the threats,” and with the threat of sabotaging the entire economy hanging over our heads, I have heard and read several political journalists attack the President. Yes, attack the President.

These political journalists, from New York to D.C. and beyond, are strange folks who are fascinated not by policy matters—which affect everyday people in the country—but by process matters—which don’t affect anyone but do provide something for the chattering class to chatter about. They have relentlessly criticized the President for his “messaging problem,” for not winning enough PR victories, for “dithering” and looking “indecisive” over Syria, among other things.

From Andrea Mitchell to Chuck Todd to Mark Halperin to John Heilemann to Ruth Marcus to Maureen Dowd, the columnist other journalists and TV personalities love to quote, I have heard the equivalent of Dowd’s recent claim, which she has repeated frequently, that the President’s style is not up to the job, that he “cannot seem to connect anymore.”

This morning, after Dowd’s ridiculous column was cited on MSNBC several times, I heard the new managing editor of Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs, say that the President seems “off his game.” Huh? This is a game? All this stuff is just a PR sport for Beltway insiders, including journalists and politicians, to opine on, when the Great Black Communicator is perceived as not getting the message just right by Washington, D.C.’s, or Marureen Dowd’s, standards? Oh, Allah.

And we wonder why it is that Republicans feel emboldened, and if you listen to right-wing radio, they now feel giddy and emboldened, to carry out a plot to dynamite the economy in order to destroy Obama and ObamaCare.

Finally, I heard CNN’s John King say today that Boehner has one of the toughest jobs in Washington. Are you kidding? You mean it is tough to decide between blowing up the country and not blowing up the country? Is that tough? Is that a close call?

Apparently it is in the mind of journalists like John King.

A Very Stupid Game

Via his press conference on Monday, President Obama has now at least tried to educate the people (journalists don’t help much, though) as to just how damaging a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be (“the consequences of us not paying our bills…would be disastrous“).

He has also tried to educate the people (again, with little help from journalists) as to what the debt ceiling actually is: paying for spending already authorized (“These are bills that have already been racked up and we need to pay them“).

The President also laid out the two choices that Republicans are offering him, neither of which he says he will accept:

And so what we’re not going to do is put ourselves in a position where in order to pay for spending that we’ve already incurred, that our two options are we’re either going to profoundly hurt the economy and hurt middle-class families and hurt seniors and hurt kids who are trying to go to college, or, alternatively, we’re going to blow up the economy.  We’re not going to do that.

Ain’t gonna happen, he said. Rather than those two damaging options, President Obama spells out the two options Republicans really have:

So we’ve got to pay our bills.  And Republicans in Congress have two choices here:  They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills; or they can act irresponsibly, and put America through another economic crisis.  But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.  The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used.  The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. 

And they better choose quickly, because time is running short. 

There you have it. They can act responsibly or irresponsibly. It’s their choice.  And the President says he will not be a party to their recklessness, should they choose that route.

Which is exactly why Republican leadership, despite their rhetoric now, will find a way to pivot away from this disastrous debt-ceiling talk and on to a fight over the upcoming budget resolution.

They realize that the President is willing to give them the rope to electorally hang themselves, and most of them don’t even want to feel the noose around their necks, let alone hang up there for all to see, their political bodies swinging in the wind of public disgust.

Finally, if you read the transcript of that press conference, you will see that President Obama didn’t exactly rule out any unilateral executive action to raise the debt ceiling, should Republicans refuse to do so. He was pressed on this issue and, while it sounded like he wouldn’t go down that road, he left himself enough room to do so to avoid what he called “disastrous consequences” or, as he quoted John Boehner, “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.”

And really, given such stakes, what else could he do?

Here are a few clues from his presser as to why he just might take action on his own (emphasis mine):

So to even entertain the idea of this happening — of the United States of America not paying its bills — is irresponsible.  It’s absurd.

__________________

…there are no magic tricks here.  There are no loopholes. There are no easy outs.  This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending.  They order me to spend…They lay all this out for me because they have the spending power.  And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills. 

Separately, they also have to authorize the raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid.  And so, what Congress can’t do is tell me to spend X, and then say, but we’re not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills. 

__________________

You do not go out to dinner and then eat all you want, and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you are breaking the law.

__________________

And the notion that Republicans in the House, or maybe some Republicans in the Senate, would suggest that “in order for us to get our way on our spending priorities, that we would risk the full faith and credit of the United States” — that I think is not what the Founders intended.  That’s not how I think most Americans think our democracy should work. 

__________________

What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people — the threat that “unless we get our way, unless you gut Medicare or Medicaid, or otherwise slash things that the American people don’t believe should be slashed, that we’re going to threaten to wreck the entire economy.”  That is not how historically this has been doneThat’s not how we’re going to do it this time.

Obviously, President Obama cannot come out and say directly that he will not, as America’s chief executive, let the country default on its obligations. If he did so, it would empower Republicans to not raise the debt ceiling and then blame him for the unilateral action (some on the right have already suggested impeachment, should he do so).

So he has to play this part of this very stupid game with his cards close to his chest.

 

The Critical Few

I describe budgets as a tapestry: When it’s woven together, the picture amounts to our hopes and dreams of a nation.”

—Jack Lew, Obama’s chief of staff and reportedly his choice to be Treasury secretary

If Jack Lew becomes the next Secretary of the Treasury, he will have to deal directly with a Republican Party that, by all appearances, seems ready to do nasty things to the country.

But I have some doubts as to whether there is unanimity among Republicans in Congress to threaten the fiscal health of the country with a protracted battle over the budget. And it would take near-unanimity to pull off the caper of ruining the economy.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but if one thinks about it, there are now 55 members of the Democratic Conference in the Senate and only five Republicans would have to join them to stop any history-making attempt to wreck the country. Are there five GOP senators who care more about today’s America than tomorrow’s Grover Norquist?

Geeze, I hope so.

In the House, Democrats hold 201 seats. Only a handful of Republicans (and there are 15 of them who were elected in a district also won by President Obama in November) would be needed to stop the insanity. Are there seventeen or so Republican House members politically sane enough to vote with Democrats should it come to that? God only knows. And God only knows if Speaker Boehner would even let such a vote happen.

But these numbers indicate to me that Democrats can stand strong and not compromise away a jot or tittle of the integrity of what Ed Schultz calls “the big three,” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

And besides hoping that there are a handful of Republicans who will refuse to become economic saboteurs, I am also hoping that Jack Lew—a veteran Democrat who first learned the ways of Washington under the sainted Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill—will be the kind of man that former Republican Senator and Budget Committee chairman Judd Gregg says he is:

He’s like a labor-union negotiator. He’s not going to give you an inch if he doesn’t have to. He’s a true believer in the causes. 

It may take a Democratic true believer to convince true-believing Republicans that he will let them, if they insist on fiscal chaos, go down the road to lasting infamy. And we can only hope that such a prospect will send chills down at least a critical few right-wing spines.

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