The debt ceiling talks appear to have stalled and the August 2nd date of economic doom draws neigh. Wall Street bankers, The Fed, the Treasury Department, and most every economist on the planet believe that hitting the debt ceiling will have dire consequences, and that actually defaulting on the debt would be even worse. Estimates vary in terms of the degree of catastrophe, but virtually no one in a position to be considered an expert on macroeconomics thinks that hitting the ceiling will be no big deal.
Chauncey DeVega, over at AlterNet, thinks the reason is that evangelicals have a strong hold on the GOP, and that the fervently faithful have a mindset that ignores numbers that don’t agree with their ideology. He posits that the Tea Party and other far right conservative groups are running on faith rather than fact. While there may be some truth to that, it doesn’t explain the plurality of Independents or the chunk of Democrats beholden to the notion that banging into the debt ceiling is a non-event.
I personally think there’s also an element here of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Political issues have become so hyperbolic in the media that virtually every issue is positioned as a looming Armageddon of one sort or another. Unless you’re following the minutiae of the debates, you’re bound to get pretty numb to all the doomsaying.
However, presumably our elected officials are above simply blowing in the media wind. They have access to data and discussions those of us in the cheap seats do not. They are in the position to be able to discern hyperbole from actual danger. Yet this would not prevent them from being blinded to facts by faith.
GOP legislators faith-blindness goes beyond the debt ceiling. Similar faith-trumps-data rationale fuels denial of global warming, belief that tax cuts don’t have to be paid for, belief that progressive tax codes constitute class warfare and destroy jobs, belief that trickle down economics is always the answer, and government regulation is always evil.
The problem is that proving that tax cuts actually lower revenue, or that CO2 contributes to global warming, requires many years of data. And even then,the results are subject to interpretation and are not readily understandable by the average Joe.
Should we hit it, the debt ceiling presents an interesting test case. If the experts are right, the impact will be felt in the very short term. It will be widespread, affecting almost everyone, everywhere. And the impact will be felt for awhile. It will be virtually impossible to deny that such an impact was directly attributable to ignoring the debt ceiling. The Conservatives who claimed it would be no big deal will be demonstrably and painfully proved wrong beyond any reasonable doubt.
Should that come to pass, the question is, will that shake the faith of Conservative politicians and supporters in their other sacred tenets? Might they be willing to entertain the reality of global warming given the catastrophic impact of their blind faith in the debt ceiling non-crisis? Or will this be swept under the rug much like the predicted May 21st end of the world predictions. That was also proved wrong, but the faithful seem to somehow have accepted that failure with no apparent impact on their other beliefs. Maybe a sufficiently strong faith is even able to overcome incontrovertible reality.
Either way, if the economy tanks, it should certainly cause the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” crowd to pay attention. Maybe that bodes well for our collective political future if we can at least get the majority of the voters to begin operating from data-based rather than faith-based policies. Although, it would be a hellish way to learn a lesson.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to stand by his claim that Job 1 for Congressional Republicans is to defeat Obama in 2012. Yet the question looms, how far are they willing to go to make that happen? Recent history suggests, pretty damn far.
To understand what’s going on, you have to first recognize that the GOP is beholden to two major groups. On the one hand they are funded by big business and the wealthy businessmen created therein. The interests of this group define the overall agenda and goals for the party.
On the other hand, the foot soldiers at the polls are largely made up of blue-collars, religious fundamentalists, and seniors. This group is necessary because, come November, you have to have lots of bodies show up to vote for you. But they are ultimately fodder as far as the policy agenda goes. They get tossed a rousing speech, a few sound bites, and an occasional red meat issue and it keeps them fired up and loyal. I’m somewhat reminded of Dennis Hooper’s line from Waterworld where he launches into a motivational tirade for his crew and they all storm off below decks to row their hearts out. He’s asked, “So which way we rowin’?” And he replies, “I don’t have a goddamn clue. Don’t worry, they’ll row for a month before they figure out I’m fakin’ it.”
Now consider, the GOP won handily in 2012 on their promise of jobs, jobs, jobs. Then, once in office, immediately focused on Obamacare and abortion. Why? For starters, creating jobs is hard. Especially when the economy is in a demand slump and the interest rates are bumping the zero-bound. The only solution is federal deficit spending, and they sure as hell weren’t going there. After all, deficits are bad. Not for the reasons often touted, but because ultimately deficits have to get repaid through taxes—something their corporate benefactors are not fond of—especially when corporate profits and CEO salaries are soaring. Which brings us to the second point. Among their fodder constituents, abortion and Obamacare are both reviled. So the strategy was essentially to distract one group while appeasing the other.
Next up is the Paul Ryan budget. No one in the GOP thought the plan had a snowflake’s chances in hell of passing, yet they lined up behind it in droves. Why? Two reasons. First, the plan was a message to the corporate benefactors. This was a wish list for the privatization of government programs and tax cuts that all serve to line the pockets of the folks who in turn fund the Republicans. By standing behind it, they were assuring the benefactors they had their backs. Secondly, the plan was political. Actually passing a plan means you can be evaluated down the road for its efficacy. Proposing a plan that can’t pass puts you in a position down the road to say that things suck because nobody listened to your ideas. Politically this was a much more powerful position to be in.
However, the GOP underestimated their fodder constituents. You’d think they’d have learned from Bush’s crash and burn on Social Security privatization, but not so much. They tried to couch the language, but the public saw through that. The result being that Ryan’s budget is now enormously unpopular because it is recognized to fundamentally change Medicare. It turns out that when fodder folks talk about support for smaller government and less spending, they don’t mean to include programs from which they benefit directly. The message sent to Republicans in NY’s 26th District special election was overwhelmingly, mess with Medicare and we will vote your ass out. This was the GOP’s first shot to its own foot. It’s limping, and looking for a path back to hale and healthy. (Gee, I hope they can afford medical insurance.)
Still, the scary specter on the horizon is the debt ceiling. If the Ryan budget was a pistol shot to the left foot, the debt ceiling is a hacksaw poised above the right knee. All the sane people (which is not all of the people) on both sides of the aisle agree the ceiling must be raised. To not do so would be economically disastrous with long-term consequences. Even Wall Street is saying this has to happen. Both sides also recognize the Republicans are simply taking an opportunistic hostage to gain political advantage. This is a dog they clearly don’t want to shoot, but if you think they just might be crazyenough, maybe you’ll buy the magazine anyway.
Again, why are they playing it this way? And again, there are a couple of forces at work here. On the one hand, the debt ceiling is enormously unpopular. In fairness, understanding the nuances of the impact of the debt ceiling on the macroeconomic health of the U.S. economy is hard to capture in a sound bite, and most people lack the interest or the time to delve into the details. Besides, the GOP has already established with the fodder constituents that deficits are bad. So selling a refusal to move on the debt ceiling is duck soup. Besides, if they can get major concessions from Democrats, they will be in the politically favorable position of being able to crow about their accomplishments. But there are more subtle and insidious forces at work here.
Everyone acknowledges that Obama’s reelection hopes hinge on the economy. The last thing the GOP wants is for the economy to make any demonstrable progress, especially in the area of jobs, wages, or anything felt directly by their fodder constituents, prior to 2012. Obama’s demise (Job 1) is directly contingent on the majority of Americans feeling substantive economic pain going in to the election booth. The GOP is talking about needing $2 trillion dollars in cuts as ransom to get them to release the debt ceiling. Those cuts cannot be achieved without significant job losses (both government and downstream private sector jobs as well) in addition to major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. This exacerbates the demand slump the economy is in, and pretty much guarantees pain for middle America, and what will border on inhumanity to the poor, disabled, and unemployed.
The gambit here is that Republicans can successfully hang the 2012 economic conditions on Obama—that their fodder constituents will blame their plight on “Obama’s wild spending spree” rather than on Republicans draconian budget cuts. And you can bet there will be additional tax cuts for corporations and the rich included in any debt ceiling as well, which will seal the love of the GOP benefactors. This is arguably the sweet spot for the GOP going in to the elections.
However, the downside is they are playing chicken with investors by holding the debt ceiling hostage. Wall Street and foreign investors alike certainly recognize individually that raising the U.S. debt ceiling is a matter of when, not if. But what the investors realize is that the market behaves like a herd of buffalo rather than as a single rational actor. Everyone may realize that long term there’s no danger, but if one animal spooks and heads out, the herd will react and follow, trampling all of us in its wake. This means the benefactor constituents are justifiably nervous about this brinksmanship. They can’t control all the buffalo, so everyone is tip-toeing about hoping to keep everyone else calm. Should someone spook, the results will be disastrous. But the devastation will not be just to our economy. The benefactors will doubtless bail on the GOP, who’s political ploy just cost them billions. If this happens, the Republicans will have effectively lopped off their right leg.
This is high stakes poker. The GOP may win at the polls. The corporate benefactors may win, lose, or break even. The rest of us will lose. The only path here on which we win would be if Democrats refused to bargain, called the Republicans bluff, and got them to fold. It’s pretty clear that won’t happen.
Is this view overly cynical? Perhaps. Maybe the GOP is not behaving with this much premeditation. Perhaps they are instead just ignorant and reckless or opportunistically sociopathic. But any way you slice it, unless you’re in the GOP’s corporate benefactor class, you voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.
With the fight over a spending bill settled (for now), another fight is brewing in Washington over raising the debt ceiling. President Obama, who is advocating to raise the level at which the U.S. government is legally permitted to borrow, so as not to cause a default on payments, has said he wants to see a “clean” bill on the matter—one without attachments.
On Saturday night House Speaker John Boehner declared, “The president says, ‘I want you to send me a clean bill.’ Guess what, Mr. President. Not a chance you’re going to get a clean bill.” Boehner argued that “there’s no plan to deal with the debt we’re facing,” and that Republicans would not vote to increase the limit unless Democrats conceded something “really, really big.”
What makes this so infuriating is the debt ceiling is not a partisan issue. If the GOP had wrangled their $100 billion in spending cuts last week, or even if Paul Ryan’s budget had been put in place last year, we’d still be on a course to exceed the debt ceiling. It’s not like the GOP had a plan to avoid it, but the Democrats forced us on a reckless course instead.
There is no remotely feasible “really really big” concession that would cause us to not hit the debt ceiling. None. Further, both sides agree that defaulting on our debt would have catastrophic long-term economic consequences. There will likely be a non-trivial downside to even flirting with letting us crash into the ceiling.
That this is even an issue is wholly irresponsible. That Boehner will use his “but I can’t control my crazy-ass Tea Party folks and they’re just nuts enough to pull the trigger” strategy on this to gain likely concessions on lowering regulations, restricting abortion, and lowering taxes is outright extortion.
On the one hand, it’s tempting to hope that this time the Democrats stand firm and call their bluff. However, there’s a real danger they aren’t bluffing. Something many voters should consider the next time they opt to send some whacko hack to Washington just to shake things up. You may get more than you bargained for.
Speaker Boehner addressed several tech points in his speech to the National Association of Religious Broadcasters on Sunday. He railed against Net Neutrality and new FCC regulations that he characterized as a government takeover of the Internet. He went on to say:
“Now, you know the old saying: ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ Well in Washington, it’s more like, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, tax ’em and regulate ’em,” Boehner said in his speech. “So, some members of Congress and the federal bureaucracy are still trying to reinstate – and even expand – the Fairness Doctrine. To them, it’s fair to silence ideas and voices they don’t agree with, and use the tools of government to do it. “
Opposing Net Neutrality has been pretty standard Republican boilerplate. Much like with the healthcare debate, the GOP prefers that corporations make decisions for consumers rather than the government. The new twist here is the conflation of Net Neutrality with the Fairness Doctrine.
The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 and required that broadcasters present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. Reagan overturned the policy by executive order in 1987.
Republicans are apparently afraid the Internet might become a place of fair and balanced treatment of controversial issues. This is a confounding stance, not to mention that the distributed nature of content creators on the Internet would make such a rule impossible to enforce. Yet the larger issue is that Net Neutrality has absolutely nothing to do with editorial content.
Net Neutrality simply guarantees that the ISPs who provide the backbone for and access to the Internet cannot preferentially treat one content type over another. This assures that you have equally speedy access to Fox Nation and the Huffington Post. It means your access to Netflix won’t be throttled by Time Warner, or that Comcast will cut a deal with Microsoft to make Bing twice as fast as Google.
There is nothing about any proposed or existing Net Neutrality rules that in any way attempts to legislate editorial content on the web. Nothing. Tying Net Neutrality to the Fairness Doctrine is either an act of colossal ignorance or a blatant attempt to mislead and confuse voters.
On NBC’s Meet the Press this weekend, Speaker John Boehner was pressed by host David Gregory to repudiate the baseless allegations of Obama being a Muslim and having not been born in the USA. Boehner declined. In the process, he said, “David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”
On the face of it, Boehner is merely restating what has become a tired mantra of many politicians—they are listening to the American people. Yet the larger implications of his statement on a whole, especially in the context it was stated, are particularly troubling.
The Speaker told Gregory that people have a right to their beliefs and it wasn’t his job to tell them what to think. However, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Where the President was born and what religion he practices are not matters of belief or opinion. This is evidential information. Boehner himself says he accepts Obama’s Hawaiian birth and Christianity as “facts as he understands them”.
Not only is Boehner saying he considers the views of the ignorant and misinformed to be equally as valid as everyone else, but he strongly feels that as a leader he has no obligation to lead. He will just follow blithely where the unwitting wish.
This would merely be a comical interlude except that studies show that Fox News viewers are already the most misinformed citizens, and a Fox News insider has revealed a news culture where “facts” are routinely just made up to suit the desired narrative. Boehner is making it all the more clear that misinformed constituents are now part of the Republican strategy.