The New Standard of Governance

end-world-survival-guide-staying-alive-during-zombie-apocalypse.w654The standard of good governance in the Republican party has become this won’t be the end of the world.

Let’s rewind. The country has been riddled with Congress-made crises for the past few years, from sequestration, to threats of government shutdowns, to refusals to raise the debt ceiling. The Republican party has used these items as bargaining chips in attempts to extract absurd concessions e.g. repeal Obamacare. Instead of using normal negotiating tactics, they’ve opted for a series of hostage negotiations where they use threats of catastrophe to get what they want. 

When they first started this they never went through with their threats and last-minute deals were always made. But not any more. At the beginning of this year, sequestration, a law never meant to go into effect but merely force a compromise, went into effect. The Republican response to furloughed workers, de-funded Head Start programs, and cancer clinics turning away patients was that this is not the end of the world. In fact, these cuts will actually help economy. Goldmach Sachs disagrees – but that’s for another day. 

Recently, Congress, faced with the threat of a government shutdown, did in fact shut down the government because Republicans were upset Democrats refused to repeal Obamacare. The Republicans have every right to repeal a law but not to use repeal as an ultimatum.  Now that the government shut down it means more furloughed workers, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) recipients receiving less care, and the National Parks closing. The Republican response to this is a shutdown isn’t the end of the world

And now the government is about to reach the debt limit and Congress is debating whether to raise the debt ceiling. If we choose not to the government will default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history; it will be catastrophic to the world economy. At first Republicans agreed with this sentiment, but as we approach the date Republicans are re-thinking their position. Some are saying breaching the debt ceiling wouldn’t be all that bad. Some are saying we won’t default since the government can prioritize payments – a process Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, said would be “Chaos.”  Even if this were possible it would still mean other government payments would cease; “Surprise! No Social Security for you this month!”  But hey, it wouldn’t be the end of the world…

And that’s where we are now. We have one party who believes so long as the negative consequences of their actions aren’t the end of the world then it’s not that big of deal. So long as the country isn’t imploding on itself then it’s okay to go from one hostage negotiation to the next in order to do what… Lower taxes? Cut entitlements? Try once more to repeal Obamcare? Sequestration and the government shutdown were not the end of the world, but they still caused unnecessary suffering and hardship. Breaching the debt ceiling will only add to that. Simply because something doesn’t create an absolute disaster should not be the standard of good governance. The sad thing is Republicans are content with precisely this measure.


I Thought We Didn’t Negotiate With Terrorists?

“The Debt Ceiling is the only leverage the GOP has to get some spending cuts.”

Debate from my previous post, What Republicans Want… I Don’t Know, prompted a commenter to write that sentence. The sentence, although not filled with heated rhetoric or vitriol, encapsulates the dysfunction within the Republican Party and our current political system.

Before I get to why, a little lesson on the debt ceiling is needed. The debt ceiling is an artificial problem with profoundly real consequences. Each year, Congress passes laws concerning taxation levels and spending programs. If spending is greater than the tax revenue brought in then the government has to borrow money to make up the difference. That borrowing, is “raising the debt ceiling.” The money has already been spent, but needs to be paid back. This is important to understand. By not raising the debt ceiling the government is not saving money or acting fiscally responsible; it is simply not paying its bills. Which by the way is against the law.

In effect, Congress is fighting with itself; arguing about paying for programs already passed as law. Republicans can talk all they want about spending cuts, but that is not related to the debt ceiling. Once again, it is money already spent. Republicans are simply using the debt ceiling as a bargaining tool to get what they want. As I said, it’s an artificial problem. Raising the debt ceiling will not make us worse off or increase our debt. Congress agreed to a certain amount of spending, they spent that money, and now Republicans don’t want to pay it back.

Although this is a fabricated problem by Republicans; the consequences of their threats are all too real. If the U.S. government defaults on its debt it would wreak havoc on still fragile financial markets as well as hurt our standing on the world stage. If that seems too abstract, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein puts it in very real terms:

” The FBI will shut down. The people responsible for tracking down loose nukes will lose their jobs. The prisons won’t operate. The biomedical researchers won’t be funded. The court system will close its doors. The tax refunds won’t go out. The Federal Aviation Administration will go offline. The parks will close. Food safety inspections will cease.”

The debt ceiling is not just government jargon, economic fuddling, or accounting trickery; it is very real, and the effects of not raising the debt ceiling will be felt very quickly. Which brings me back to this sentence: “The Debt Ceiling is the only leverage the GOP has to get some spending cuts.”

The debt ceiling debate, the one manufactured by Republicans that would cause devastation and hardship, is a game for conservatives; something they can use as leverage. Republicans are willing to devastate the economy in order to don’t get what they want. That is not how governance in this country works; we do not govern via a system of threats and hostage negations, well, not until now. Republicans are strapping a bomb to themselves, threatening to detonate it unless their spending cuts (demands) are met.

holding americans hostage

The GOP realizes this is the only way to pass their out of touch and unpopular agenda. And here lies the problem with our political system. One Party, one crazy enough to default on our debt, is wielding control through unprecedented governing and threats of economic collapse. A successful two-party system necessitates compromise with both sides willing to give; obviously, this isn’t happening. Republicans have decided to forgo normal negations for one with which they use the health of the economy as a bargaining chip.

Instead of addressing real problems like high unemployment or a warming planet we are debating whether or not to pay our bills. And the GOP thinks this is totally fine. As my one commenter said it’s the GOP’s only leverage to cut spending. It’s sad we are dealing with threats from inside our own government. It’s sad Republicans think our economic and financial stability is all just a game. And it’s sad the Grand Old Party thinks it’s just fine to hold the wellbeing of our country hostage to get what it wants.