The closer we get to August 2, the more I think that the voluntary crisis called the “debt ceiling debate” will end badly. That’s something I would not have considered last week, believing, naively perhaps, that even the Tea Party intransigents would compromise enough to rescue the U.S. from potential economic disaster.
“We will not raise the debt ceiling.” Full stop. That is their cry, and no more vociferously than from poster girl/presidential candidate Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who has been using her intransigence to underpin campaign ads.
The thing that worries me is not so much ideology (which worries me, but can usually be overcome in the national interest), but that some of these guys on the Right don’t even believe that the default date is actually real.
If they don’t believe the date is actual, there is little at stake in missing it. Ergo, there is no motivation to do anything at all, and no urge to compromise even one teeny, tiny baby step. It’s almost as if they are daring the date, daring the experts—hell, even daring the bond rating agencies. Do they want to prove to themselves that the date is bogus?
The two stupidest reasons I’ve heard from the Right to explain the August 2nd date are 1) to go a day longer would infringe on President Obama’s birthday party, and 2) Ramadan begins, and would tie up the president, since, of course, he’s a Muslim. Yeah, seriously. And, somehow, the president has used his superhuman powers (or he stole Dumbledore’s wand) to persuade economists, Moody’s, and Standard and Poors that the date is really the drop-dead date before a calamitous economic catastrophe ensues.
So this is the mentality which the president and the Democrats in Congress are up against. Add to that the Tea Party’s misguided notion that they have some sort of economic and social mandate from The American People. (All they need to do is read the polls to understand just how misguided they are.)
What emerges is a perverse sense of compromise that amounts to “my way or the highway.” They are “willing” to allow the president to raise the debt ceiling—something sane people know is mandatory, and allows us to pay for things already purchased—in exchange for adopting their agenda. To me, this is more extortion than compromise. It says: “We’ll let you do what you have to do to ensure the economic safety of this country, if you do everything we say.”
Yes, there are some Democrats who are opposed to even looking at entitlement programs. And President Obama has been stung by media and activists on the Left for being willing to compromise his own beliefs on social programs to meet the Right halfway. But there is nowhere the amount of intransigence among Democrats as there is among Repubicans, many of whom are, after all, locked into Grover Norquist‘s “no tax increases, no way, no how” pledge.
Most Democrats believe that the best thing would be to detach the debt ceiling limit from deficit reduction. I agree with that; the president would agree with that. But it’s just not going to happen. It would never get through the my-way-or-the-highway Tea Partiers in the House of Representatives. So, to avoid the default day of August 2, most Democrats in the House and Senate are willing to hold their noses and compromise. Note, I said “compromise,” a word seemingly absent from the lexicon of House Republicans these days.
I’m no happier about the “gang of six” plan to cut more than $3 trillion, including Democratic sacred cows, than are fellow left-leaners on Daily Kos and Huffington Post. But the Republicans (and the Tea Party) won big in November, and there are consequences to elections.
I hate the idea that we have to give in to extortion. I hate the idea that we have to compromise on things so fundamental to our side. But these are the cards we have. And even the incredibly Conservative Gang of Six plan may not have the votes in the House, given the Cantor/Bachmann/Walsh faction. The Democrats have crossed ideological line after line in an attempt to compromise and find common ground. But when the Right won’t compromise at all (and increasing the debt limit isn’t a compromise, it’s a Constitutional obligation to pay our bills), there is little left to do.
The crazies on the Right are willing to hold the U.S. economy hostage, perfectly willing to put the full faith and credit of the U.S. in jeopardy, while they hold their breaths and refuse to listen to anything but themselves (and guru Norquist). They make Ronald Reagan look like a flaming liberal.
So time tick-tocks down day by day. Moody’s threatens to downgrade our credit—and the credit of several states. But the date isn’t real. It’s smoke and mirrors—the Tea Party says. So they’re willing to fiddle and let the U.S. burn.