Tag: debt ceiling crisis
Why Republican Threats On Debt Default Are So Feckless And Frightening

Why Republican Threats On Debt Default Are So Feckless And Frightening

When, after a scuffle among Republicans, a frazzled Kevin McCarthy finally abased himself enough to squeak through on the 15th ballot, you could feel the historical symmetry. It was fitting that the chaotic election of this historically weak House speaker in this political climate took place on Friday night — exactly two years after insurrectionists tried to upend American democracy.

I’m not talking here about the ghoul in the “Camp Auschwitz” tee shirt or the vandal carrying the Confederate flag or the rest of the violent mob. I mean the insurrectionists wearing coats and ties and little gold pins identifying them as members of Congress. It was two years ago almost to the hour that 147 Republicans ignored the broken glass and human feces in the Capitol and voted late in the evening to overturn the election.

Almost all of those election deniers are still there — and now they’re in charge of the House. Many of them voted last year against giving the Congressional Medal to heroic Capitol Police officers. That’s who they are. Their fealty to Donald Trump may have atrophied, but their instinct to throw sand into the gears of government is stronger than ever. They want to destroy what they call “the deep state” and now possess the gavels to pursue investigations of everything connected to it.

This week’s Speaker Follies will soon be a dim memory. Beyond the emergence of an exciting new Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries (whose teleprompter-free alliteration covered all 26 letters in the alphabet!), what will endure are at least some of the deals that McCarthy made to end his public humiliation and become speaker.

These concessions (actually, capitulations) will help send the House into perpetual chaos that could end up being even worse for the country and the world than McCarthy’s original sin. That came on January 28, 2021, when — after saying that Trump “bears responsibility” for the assault on the Capitol — he traveled to Mar-a-Lago to provide craven absolution for the disgraced tyrant.

In exchange for helping to rehabilitate Trump, McCarthy expected that Trump would help elect “My Kevin” as speaker. But loyalty is always a one-way street with Trump and his efforts on McCarthy’s behalf were perfunctory. What made the difference were the concessions contained in the “rules package” that has not yet been approved by the House.

McCarthy won by empowering far-right firebrands to make him their bitch. One new rule likely to be adopted says that a single member (filing a “motion to vacate”) can at any time require the House to vote on a new speaker. Talk about a short leash! Does anyone believe that Matt Gaetz or Lauren Boebert or Bob Good won’t make that motion—I dunno—a month from now? Then it’s Groundhog Day all over again.

McCarthy won in part by promising choice committee assignments to the members trolling him and by promising to establish a “Church Committee” (patterned after a legendary Senate select committee chaired by the late Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho) designed to undermine the FBI, DHS, and other federal law enforcement and generate juicy stories for rightwing media. That’s in keeping with the performative bent of the dissidents, whose demands were more procedural than ideological. One of the reasons McCarthy couldn’t close the deal earlier was that the holdouts had “no idea what they wanted,” as Rep. Dan Crenshaw put it. They were “acting like terrorists and children.”

Debt Crisis Caused Havoc In 2011

But by midweek, they returned to a golden oldie for the GOP: shutting down the government and refusing to lift the debt ceiling (two separate congressional actions). Both have been used intermittently for 40 years to achieve deficit reduction.

The first of these — where at the end of the fiscal year in September the Republicans threaten a government shutdown — isn’t so alarming. Historically, government shutdowns don’t go well for the GOP. Once the Washington Monument closes and checks to millions of government employees stop going out, everyone scurries back to the table and works out a deal that does no permanent damage.

It’s the second threat — playing chicken with default on the national debt — where things could get grim. To help explain why, let’s look back at the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, a story I covered in one of my Obama books.

That summer, President Barack Obama was on the ropes. Nine months earlier, the Democrats had lost 63 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938. Tea Party Republicans, feeling emboldened, insisted that the budget needed to be cut by the exact amount that the debt ceiling (the government’s borrowing limit) was raised —in other words, by hundreds of billions of dollars.

The House was then run by Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan— two conservative Republicans who tried to keep the crazies in the caucus at arm’s length.

One day, Jerome Powell, a former Treasury undersecretary in the first Bush Administration, called up Ryan and asked if he, as a private citizen, could give a white board presentation to the Republican Caucus about the dire consequences of defaulting on the national debt. Ryan invited him to do so. Obama so appreciated Powell trying to talk sense into what were supposed to be business-friendly Republicans that he later appointed him to the Fed.

Then, as now, many Republicans were arguing that using the vote on raising the debt ceiling would be a reasonable cleansing process — a way of reversing big Democratic spending with one vote. “It’s reasonable,” said Bruce Bartlett, a Reaganite economist who, like Powell, understood reality, “if you think sticking a knife in your eye is a good way of dealing with glaucoma.”

Even after the parties assembled a balky Rube Goldberg contraption to cut spending, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating from AAA for the first time since World War II. The markets cratered and the economy grew sluggishly for the next five years.

Downgrade Would Spark Global Recession

Flash forward to today, when a downgrade would likely bring a recession (along with high interest rates), and even a brief default would likely bring a global depression. Republicans seem unfazed by this prospect. Could it be that they plan to drive the economy over the cliff, then try to win the the White House by blaming Democrats for the crash?

In any event, we’re almost certainly headed for a debt ceiling showdown. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican and not an election denier, explained that the price for his vote for McCarthy was “a specific, concrete limit on spending attached to a debt ceiling increase.” McCarthy has now apparently agreed that any member can use the full faith and credit of the United States to impose any limit on spending at any time.

So is there anything Democrats can do to prevent the crazies from taking the global economy hostage? I’m not sure. The bad news is that Kevin McCarthy makes John Boehner look like Alexander Hamilton. Boehner wrote in his memoirs that the Freedom Caucus practiced “legislative terrorism” when he was speaker and now says that the problem is much worse.

The good news is that while Republicans had a 24-seat margin in 2011, today it’s only five. That means that if the “terrorists” use their perches on the House Rules Committee (obtained in this week’s shakedown of McCarthy) to prevent the debt ceiling bill from coming to the floor, Democrats only need five reasonable Republicans to sign what’s called a discharge petition — a difficult but not impossible process for bringing a bill straight to a vote. Those five signatures (and, later, votes) would most plausibly be obtained from one of the 19 Republicans representing purple districts that Joe Biden carried in 2020. They’re hardly moderates but could vote to prevent themselves from being blamed for a recession generated by the hostage-taking of House Republicans.

In the meantime, we’re in for yet more wounds inflicted on our democratic institutions. The only solution is for Democrats to build on their impressive unity and win in a wipeout in 2024. Then the stench of January 6 might finally begin to lift.

Jonathan Alter is a bestselling author, Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, and a contributing correspondent and political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. His Substack newsletter is OLD GOATS: Ruminating with Friends.

Reprinted with permission from OLD GOATS

There's No Pretending That Kevin McCarthy Is 'Mainstream' Or 'Moderate'

There's No Pretending That Kevin McCarthy Is 'Mainstream' Or 'Moderate'

With Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally winning a ballot for House speaker, after so many humiliating delays, it is important to understand why his "victory" no longer matters much and probably never did. The Beltway narrative that positions him as a symbol of "governing" and his erstwhile opponents as isolated agents of chaos is badly mistaken.

The Republican Party, at least as constituted in the House of Representatives, is today a vector of nihilism. Its stated objectives, articulated by both supporters and opponents of its current leadership, are hostile to democratic values and pose an ongoing threat to American security. Election deniers and coup supporters predominate, including "my Kevin," as Trump dubbed him.

No significant GOP faction can be described accurately as "moderate" or "mainstream" or even "conservative," although media outlets persist in using those familiar terms to frame them.

They're nearly all crazies now.

Even if real distinctions could once be drawn between those who steadfastly backed McCarthy and those who resisted him, they've been erased by his wholesale submission to his adversaries' demands. By awarding them unprecedented power over rules, votes, appropriations and even his own tenure, he has elevated a gang of hard-right yahoos into the ultimate congressional authority.

McCarthy's reign as speaker may be comically brief, but the chaos and peril that ensue will be just as damaging as if he had stepped aside for the likes of Jim Jordan or Andy Biggs. His weakness has emboldened the GOP's most deranged figures, who veer erratically between anarchy and authoritarianism — and who will continue to seek the spotlight they've enjoyed lately by any means available.

None of this is mitigated by the fact that McCarthy, once a slavish acolyte of former Speaker John Boehner, lacks any discernible beliefs, let alone firm convictions. His rise epitomizes the Republican abandonment of principle during the Trump era. The premise of his career has nothing to do with policy commitments or leadership qualities, resting solely on his skills as a smiling fundraiser and recruiter.

Unlike Boehner, who was booted from office for trying to control the far Right, McCarthy has rarely gotten in their way. That's why Mick Mulvaney, a founder of the House Freedom Caucus who played a major role in Boehner's ouster, has urged his former colleagues to stop fighting and accept the victory that a McCarthy speakership represents.

As Mulvaney noted in a recent op-ed endorsing McCarthy, this supposed "moderate" supports the loony Freedom Caucus agenda. He will eagerly emcee their clown show, replete with "investigations" of Hunter Biden, harassment of Dr. Anthony Fauci, attacks on federal law enforcement, attempts to justify the Jan. 6 insurrection, and an ongoing zeal to protect former President Donald Trump and his coup plotters from accountability.

What they will not do in any meaningful sense is govern.

Indeed, their principal objective is to make governing impossible. For years now, the sole aim of congressional Republicans under a Democratic presidency has been to win the next election — not to achieve legislative compromises for the good of the nation or even to ensure fiscal and administrative continuity, like a modern political party in any other country. Beginning with the Gingrich-led takeover of the House, the Republican attitude toward governance has been insurrectionary, meaning that they shun all cooperation, regardless of the destructive consequences.

That attitude was on display last month when the House considered legislation to avert a potentially ruinous railway strike. Even with many heartland Republicans warning that a strike would wreck the economy and harm their constituents severely, nearly two-thirds of the GOP caucus voted no — including Kevin McCarthy.

Now the House Republicans are poised to strike a historic blow against the United States by preventing an increase in the national debt ceiling — unless they are allowed to dictate destructive budget cuts. They are prepared to wreck the "full faith and credit" of the republic unless they can impose horrendous cuts in Medicare, Social Security and other vital programs that will also cause irreparable harm to the economy and the public.

McCarthy has signed up for that fanatical assault on the national interest. He is no more "mainstream" than his sidekick, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. It's time to stop pretending he is.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

5 Reasons The GOP Needs To Be Punished For Trump

5 Reasons The GOP Needs To Be Punished For Trump

Some would like to pretend that the Republican party is just an innocent victim that had an alien named Donald Trump suddenly crawl out of its stomach.

How could a party that gave us a sensible, sober-minded guy who looks like he escaped from a four-blade razor commercial be blamed for the sudden rise and imminent fall (to be followed, possibly, by another rise) of a brutally bombastic bigot?

Well, let’s recap how the Republican Party destroyed its immune system to make itself the perfect host for infection by a man who inherited his career and spent his life grifting off the grace and sweat of workers — a man with no public service, a genius for scapegoating, and a generosity that he only extends to his potential heirs.

For the sake of brevity, we’ll skip the part where conservatives decided to, as Nixon aide Pat Buchanan advised in 1971, “cut the Democratic Party and country in half” using “dog whistle politics” with the goal of ending up “the larger half.” Instead, we’ll start with the GOP’s decision to reject the legitimacy of the first black president on the night of his inauguration as America was in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis since the last time laissez-faire conservative economics led us into a depression.

As our Joe Conason wrote,”The billionaire bully and his angry mob are their own shrieking chickens, finally coming home to roost.”

Here are five reasons the GOP needs to be rebuked up and down the ballot for giving us Donald Trump.

  1. Abandoning judicial norms.
    Republicans are closing out President Obama’s second term with an unprecedented act of obstruction — refusing to even consider his final appointment to the Supreme Court, leaving a seat open for a record length of time, hoping it will be filled by Donald Trump. Slate‘s Dalia Lithwick explains that this egregious act is the culmination of decades of GOP hyper- focus on the courts. In 2009, Obama’s Seventh Circuit Court nominee David Hamilton, “a well-regarded judge, recommended by a senior Republican senator [Dick Lugar of Indiana], was blocked for no reason other that Obama had named him.” This persistent stonewalling has led to a vacancy crisis on the federal courts that would surely be worse if Senate Democrats hadn’t sharply limited the filibuster. John McCain, now locked in a battle to keep his Senate seat, even vowed to block any nominee sent up by President Hillary Clinton. “We are now hearing arguments that posit the choice between electing the most lawless president Americans have ever encountered, or indulging serious arguments about the necessity to blow up the court, the executive branch, and the Senate itself, in order to preserve the Constitution,” Lithwick explained. This is the natural consequence of a party that values its power to make law through the courts above everything — even basic decency.
  2. Abandoning legislative norms.
    Republicans have spent seven years reminding America that not one Republican voted for Obamacare. The strategy of absolute obstruction was their plan from the beginning. But this narrative leaves out how Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee purposely spent months slowing down the process, to make a plan based on conservative reforms implemented by Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts even more business friendly. Today Obamacare is an extraordinary success that has insured over 20 million. “In fact, for the majority of Americans with employer-based coverage, the average annual premium increase since Obamacare became law in 2010 has declined 40 percent compared to the increases of the previous decade, saving the average family nearly $3,600 a year,” Politico Magazine‘s Mike Grunwald explains.”  And Obamacare’s cost savings have extended the solvency of Medicare by 11 years. But there is a serious problem of escalating premiums for Americans who earn too much for subsidies and get insurance through the new exchanges — about three percent of Americans, Grunwald estimates — and the GOP’s solution is to let those people suffer while pursuing repeal. After six years of promises, the party has no plan for replacing the law that can be scored in any reasonable fashion. Meanwhile Republican states have blocked Medicaid expansion for more than four million of the poorest yet hardest working American families. And then there’s the filibuster. “Republicans went into full-bore filibuster mode the day he took office, and they’ve kept it up ever since,” Mother Jones Kevin Drum and Jaeah Lee explained. “For all practical purposes, anything more controversial than renaming a post office has required 60 votes during the entire Obama presidency.” And let’s not forget how the House GOP refused to even vote on a Senate immigration bill despite warnings from inside and outside the party that refusing to embrace reform could end up costing the party the vast majority of Latino support in perpetuity. A gerrymandered majority that relies almost entirely upon white votes, manically obstructing a historic presidency, while doing nothing to reach out to minorities — including fixing the Voting Rights Act — turns out to be a perfect invitation for the rise of a white nationalist demagogue.
  3. Nurturing conspiracism.
    How do you end up with a birther as your party’s nominee? You refuse a full-throated condemnation of such racist conspiracy theories and instead, you stand on stage and accept the endorsement of a birther. You also make delegitimizing the president a key part of your legislative agenda by defunding ACORN — a group that has not existed since 2010 — over and over and over and over and over because you know your base believes that group helped steal the 2008 election, which President Obama won in a yuuuge landslide.
  4. Threatening to wreck the economy to implement a radical conservative agenda.
    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan loves to play the good soldier, forced to rescue a party torn between those who think Donald Trump is a terrible racist and those who think he’s a wonderful racist. But Ryan was the key player in using the crisis President Obama inherited as an opportunity to punish the poor and retirees. Republicans nearly sparked a global economic catastrophe by refusing to raise the debt limit to pay for funding Congress had already approved. The president was ready to cede to the right’s demands somewhat if Republicans would ask the rich to pay slightly higher taxes. Ryan and the GOP decided to relent but only after securing promises to starve the government as America tried to recover from the recession. Their hope then is still their hope now — securing bigger cuts and huge tax breaks for the rich. How does the GOP end up with a self-proclaimed billionaire who is proud he doesn’t pay taxes? You spend decades convincing America that the fortunes of the nation depend on coddling the rich, and then you try to make the poor pay for a crisis that wealthy investors inflicted on the world.
  5. Aiding and abetting Trump. Not long before Donald Trump beat him in his home state’s presidential primary, Marco Rubio delivered a teary-eyed speech explaining why Donald Trump must not allowed to become president. He’d previously called Trump “a lunatic trying to get a hold of nuclear weapons in America.” And he’s still endorsing him for president.

The Republican Party is largely silent as its nominee — whom it forced to sign a pledge to remain in the party — is actively trying to wreck our democracy by calling our elections “rigged” with no evidence to back up his accusation.

“One moment crystallized precisely what the 2016 election is about. When asked whether he would respect the election results, Trump shrugged. ‘I will look at it at the time,’ he told moderator, Chris Wallace. ‘I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?’ No, not OK. Not at all. This isn’t the build-up to the season finale of a reality show. This is the basis of our representative democracy,” Nicole Hemmer, assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, told Politico Magazine. “Americans are not supposed to be waiting to hear Trump’s verdict on election night; he is supposed to be waiting to hear ours.”

America needs to render a verdict on the Republican Party that welcomed and enabled this man. And it must be harsh.

Why Obama Has Already Won the Debt-Limit Fight

July 15 (Bloomberg) — I get the feeling that it’s all over but the shouting. We may look back and say that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s convoluted parliamentary “backup plan” marked the effective end of the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis. The winner? President Barack Obama.

Sure, an agreement this month on reducing the deficit would be preferable for restoring confidence in the economy and for the president’s legacy. Obama has told lawmakers they need to decide by Friday if a bargain is possible. But even if the parties miraculously strike a deal in the Cabinet Room, the votes aren’t there on Capitol Hill to pass it.

The plan offered by McConnell this week does what Obama and the Republicans claimed they want to avoid: It kicks the can down the road again. Republicans in both houses — not to mention online and on the airwaves — were furious about his proposal, and McConnell even backpedaled from it a bit. But they have nothing else to fall back on.

If you went into the congressional kitchen to cook up the perfect Washington fudge, this is what you’d get. Instead of “doing something big” about the deficit, McConnell is proposing to do nothing — then blame the other side.

It’s a sign of how ungovernable the country has become that something resembling this scheme is now the most practical way forward.

Best Political Outcome

Yet politically, an elaborate fudge is the best possible outcome both for Republicans who talked themselves onto a ledge and for a president facing an imminent disaster and recalcitrant opposition that spits on the word “compromise.”

McConnell concluded that his party needed cover for a strategic retreat. Under his Rube Goldberg meets Robert’s Rules of Order scenario, Congress would give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling in three increments, then disapprove of his action, then sustain his veto of the disapproval with few if any Republican votes. (McConnell acknowledged that Republicans wouldn’t have the two-thirds required to override Obama’s veto.)

His little maneuver — hard for even wonks to follow in detail — wouldn’t make Obama “own” the deficit, as McConnell hopes. But it would allow Republicans to say they voted against an increase in the debt ceiling while sparing them blame for causing a catastrophic default.

You can see why the idea might also appeal to the president, though he will accept only one vote, not the prolonged torture of three that McConnell proposes. It’s not a bad way out for him. The “Big Fudge” would let him frost his cake and eat it, too.

Generous Offers Rejected

Over the past few days, Obama has shown that he’s willing to sacrifice Democratic sacred cows. He hasn’t released a detailed official plan; he’s too cagey for that. But sketchy reports of possible cuts have leaked. Among them: a switch to using chained CPI for Social Security (which would adjust the calculation of the Consumer Price Index in a way that cuts benefits); an increase in the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67; cuts in student loans and reimbursements for hospitals; and the elimination of the cherished last-in, first- out accounting methods, which enable businesses to reduce their taxable income.

Even if those huge items weren’t on his list, he’s offering about $3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, with an additional $1 trillion in revenue increases, mostly in the form of greatly reducing the myriad favors for corporations embedded in the tax code.

Thus the 3:1 ratio that some liberals view as overly solicitous to the opposition and that right-wingers (I can’t bear to call them conservatives because they’re not, in any traditional sense) see as a violation of their religious conviction that no taxes of any kind must ever be raised on anyone by anyone for any purpose, even if the future of the country is at stake.

A Winning Message

The good news for Obama is that the more liberals, lobbyists and apologists for the rich squawk, the more fiscally responsible he looks to the independent voters who will determine the election.

Better yet, under McConnell’s plan Obama would get credit for good budgetary intentions without blame for the pain, which will remain theoretical for now. At the risk of mixing dessert and vegetables, the “Big Fudge” lets him pose as a responsible pea eater without actually ingesting any of the wrinkled little suckers.

You can hear the centrist 2012 message now. “We wanted to slash the debt by $4 trillion and protect our children’s future,” the Democrats will say, conveniently forgetting how loud they’re bellyaching this week about their own president’s proposed cuts. “But the Republicans killed responsible deficit reduction to protect corporate jet owners.”

Republican Miscalculations

Republicans are under the mistaken impression the public shares their conviction that tax increases are universally unacceptable, no matter how necessary. With polls showing public support for tax increases on the wealthy, the fallout from Republicans rejecting a deal could help ease the pressure on Obama of 9 percent unemployment. And by avoiding the painful Medicare and Medicaid cuts he was prepared to make part of the deal, Obama can resume campaigning against Representative Paul Ryan’s unpopular Medicare privatization plan.

Hope for a last minute grand bargain isn’t entirely gone, but it’s close. Even if your average Tea Party voter would take $4 trillion in deficit reduction over tax favors for the rich any day, the Republican Party continues to make its bottom line clear: Tax cuts uber alles.

They thought Obama would budge. They were wrong, now it’s fudge.

So the president will probably win this bitter round. Then, look for him to begin de-emphasizing the deficit and move at last toward a jobs agenda that shows he’s in touch with the country’s biggest concern. It’s about time.

Jonathan Alter, the author of “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope,” is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

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