Once again, the nation is facing another manufactured crisis over the federal budget initiated by the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party. Apparently, this is now the new normal in American politics. What used to be fairly routine budget processes, like annual fiscal appropriations or raising the debt ceiling, are now viewed by these political vandals as procedural choke points that can be held hostage to their demands for a radical restructuring of the federal budget that they cannot pass through the regular order of Congressional business.
This scorched earth brinksmanship and obdurate obstructionism has led to a loss of international confidence in the stability of the U.S. political system. This is not the behavior of a mature democracy. Elections are supposed to matter.
Shutting down the government to stop the Affordable Care Act (ACA), after it was passed by the House and Senate, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court, and then reaffirmed by the re-election of President Obama in an election in which his opponent ran on a platform of repealing the ACA, is an act of political sabotage. The Republican leadership is trying to sell a novel constitutional theory, which is that the House of Representatives can nullify any law passed by Congress and signed by the President by defunding its implementation.
The calculation seems to be that if they cannot govern, no one will be permitted to govern. The Senate Republican caucus has brought the institution to a dead stall through an unprecedented abuse of rules and procedures, while the House Republicans claim the mandate to block every attempt to enact the President’s agenda based on their gerrymandered control of a body which actually received a million votes fewer than the Democrats. We are facing a crisis of governance.
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, observes that when he first entered government service in 1967: “The leadership of the Republican Party included responsible adults capable of governing the nation. Fast forward 46 years and there’s no real Republican leadership…. There’s not even a national Republican Party: The GOP is a hollow shell infested with right-wing nihilists like Ted Cruz and Eric Cantor, conservative fanatics like Paul Ryan and Mike Lee, and a Star Wars barroom of cranks and crackpots, mostly bankrolled by a few billionaires and cheer-led by wackos on Fox News and yell radio. No responsible adult is in charge, and yet the rest of us are being held hostage to their playground antics.”
Let’s look at the facts. It is a tribute to the power of the Fox media empire that 94% of the American people believe that the annual deficit is increasing, even though it is actually going down. The deficit has shrunk from$1.3 trillion dollars in the first year of the Obama administration to $845 billion this year. The deficit has fallen to the lowest level since 2008. Inflation-adjusted discretionary spending is now below the final two fiscal years of the Bush administration. Not that the facts will matter to the folks who have deepened and lengthened the economic crisis by blocking every attempt to address the source of the deficit problem: lack of jobs, leading to sharply reduced tax revenues. Until we break the spell of the right-wing voodoo economics that has kept us transfixed on the sideshow of national debt rather than the real and present jobs crisis, the economy will continue to limp along. Progressive economists like Reich point to the fact that the ballooning budget deficits over the last 30 years coincide with the concerted conservative movement political and media propaganda campaign to reduce the effective tax rates on high net worth individuals and corporations. Return to 1960’s level tax rates and the deficit disappears. Tell that to the ‘fiscal hawks’! But, of course, that discussion is off the table. The nation has already paid a heavy price letting for knuckling under to Tea Party ransom demands. The last round of budgetary hostage-taking resulted in the abysmally dumb sequester, which has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and has cost the U.S. close to a percentage point of economic growth in 2013. The ruinous debt ceiling stand-off in 2011 led to the first downgrade of the national credit rating in our history. The rating agency Standard & Poor’s stated that the “political brinkmanship of recent months” had shown evidence of “America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” The downgrade cost the country close to a million jobs and $19 billion in borrowing costs.
This is just a taste of what is to come if in fact the pirates scuttle the ship by actually driving the U.S. into default this time around. We will be entering uncharted waters, and stand a very real chance of another catastrophic global economic collapse far deeper than the crash of 2008. President Obama is right to hold the line against this irresponsible political blackmail tactic.