Saturday, July 30, 2011

Republicans and the Debt Ceiling:
Legislative Edition

In two days, we will hit our country’s debt ceiling. The markets are already in freefall, the debt ceiling standoff has already had an impact on the larger economy,  and essential government services that congress has already decided to pay for are about to be shutdown. Its worth reflecting on how we got into this mess in the first place.

The answer, for all of the complex economics involved, is quite simple. Paul Krugman of the New York Times explained it best in his editorial, “The Centrist Cop-Out,”

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

The debt ceiling has been raised dozens of times before. Sure, the party out of power has always made remarks about how the other party is fiscally irresponsible, but they have never before attempted to require the country to hit the debt ceiling. Only Denmark uses a procedure similar to our debt ceiling, but they have never used it the way Republicans are using it now.

In the supposedly liberal mainstream media, the parties are always represented as having equal blame in creating the crisis, even though this crisis is almost exclusively the result of Republican absolutism. Krugman made this point well.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!

The Mainstream Media is incapable of being liberal even when reality, to quote Steven Colbert, has a liberal bias. This can be seen in the coverage of climate change, the science of which is agreed upon by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, but is always presented as undecided because one of the major parties refuses to accept the facts. Liberal mainstream media bias? Absurd!

Meanwhile, Fox News and their allies in spin at Fox Business insist on assigning responsibility for the crisis to Obama by refusing to differentiate between the debt and the debt ceiling. They say hitting the debt ceiling is Obama’s fault because he ran up so much debt in the first place. Nevermind that much of the debt was caused the collapse of tax revenue in the wake of the Great Ressesion or that Bush initiated both the Auto and Bank bailouts. Let’s look at the deficit spending that occurred exclusively under the Bush administration: unpaid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the Bush Tax cuts. Other than that the debt is all Obama’s fault!

So the next time someone assigns half or all of the blame for the debt ceiling crisis on Obama and congressional Democrats you will know they are wrong.

P.S. I can understand assigning blame for this crisis to the 82 Democrats who voted against a clean raise in the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives. All 236 Republicans in the house voted against the measure in order to require spending cuts for deficit reduction as a condition to raising the debt ceiling. If the Republicans hadn’t tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for spending cuts then many of those Democratic votes would have been reversed.

Simply put, if Republicans hadn’t acted irresponsibly, we wouldn’t be in this mess today. They deserve the overwhelming majority of the blame for this crisis.

P.P.S. Mmm Cheetos 

UPDATE (7/31/11): NPR’s On The Media also covered how the media is falsely ascribing equal blame for the debt ceiling crisis to Republicans and Democrats. I am a regular listener of On The Media, a show that always produces thought-provoking segments. Some of their greatest segments involved Artificial Intelligence, Edward R. Murrow’s college Joseph Wershba, and the inability of the Pew Center for People and the Press to find an ideological bias at NPR.

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