Remember when Rahm Emanuel made that line about never letting “a good crisis go to waste,” or whatever? Man, Republicans were livid! “What kind of opportunistic monster uses a national crisis to push a political agenda,” they cried.
It was a simpler time. These days, exploiting a good crisis for political gain is pretty much all Washington does.
In the aftermath of Congress’ last-minute, sorta-kinda fiscal cliff resolution — which is to say, a modest tax hike on the rich coupled with a two-month-kick-down-the-road of everything else — the capital has shifted its obsessive focus (once again) to the looming horror of the debt ceiling. Sometime “between the middle of February and early March,” Congress either has to authorize itself to incur more debt to fund its various expensive wars, workers, and social programs or force the United States to default, and, in the words of President Obama, become a “deadbeat nation.”
Woah, watch who you’re calling a deadbeat, respond the Congressional Republicans. Many of them outright reject the premise that America is anywhere close to defaulting, and merely see the country’s imminent collision with the debt ceiling, as (to quote Homer) a crisitunity to pursue spending cuts.
Oh sure, if Congress can’t borrow any more cash the federal government might have to shut down for a while and force the Treasury Department to redirect all revenue towards debt interest payments and nothing else, but that’s the good part! A shutdown would only make the need for prioritizing cuts that much more self-evident, what with all those unpaid vets and grannies suddenly banging down the door.
And if you genuinely believe, as Republican do, that the only reason America keeps having debt-related crises in the first place is because of unsustainable spending, then why is some manner of tough love shock therapy not the obvious, long-term fix?
It was a line of argument that worked quite well for the GOP in the debt ceiling crisis of ‘011, when Republican indifference over the threat of default freaked Obama and the Democrats into approving $917 billion in budget cuts and the horrible sequestration thing. In the aftermath, Speaker Boehner gloated that his side had won “98 percent of what we wanted,” so there was really no consequence for the GOP’s bad behaviour, if you want to call it that. When it came to negotiating, the Republicans played extreme hardball — even “took the country hostage,” if you like — but still won.
Now, the Democrat position has long held that spending cuts are useless as a debt-fighting strategy without a compensating increase in revenue — which is to say, tax hikes. But since the White House already persuaded Congress to pass those fiscal cliff tax increases earlier this month, their bargaining hand suddenly looks pretty empty. In response, Obama’s now dropped any pretence of wanting to haggle over policy at all, and is instead simply demanding a so-called “clean” ceiling raise without preconditions or compromises.
In a terse press conference on Monday, the President asserted bluntly that Congress “will pay its bills” and that endless back-and-forth with Republicans over spending cuts and whatnot is “not how we’re going to do it this time.” A few days earlier, leading Congressional Democrats including Senate majority leader Harry Reid, authored a letter advising the Prez to consider unilateral executive action to avoid default.
This was where that recent bout of goofy stories about the 14th amendment and trillion-dollar coins came from. Though the White House tried to downplay such rumours, their growing currency (ha) among liberal intellectuals and partisan proxies eventually evolved into something of a de facto negotiating position, and certainly helped create an impression among the general public that the Dems were willing to play their own gimmicky games to end the latest partisan game of chicken on their own terms.
And it must have worked, on some level. As I write, Politico has just announced that Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor have emerged from a Williamsburg GOP huddle session promising to pass a clean debt ceiling raise just like the President asked, with no cuts, nothing. But here’s the kicker — it will only last three months.
“We will authorize a three month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget,” said Cantor. And if they don’t pass one by May — which is to say, if the Democrats in the Senate don’t offer a proposal to rijigger all federal spending priorities in a way that pleases the Republican House — we’ll start the whole ceiling fun over again!
This, I suppose, is what passes for leadership in Washington these days. Crises aren’t ever averted, they’re merely delayed, usually as part of some calculated scheme to swallow pride in the short term in order to extract greater blackmailing power in the long.
Thanks to clever Republican politicking, the once-modest debt ceiling dilemma of aught-11 is now set to be the considerably more grandiose debt ceiling/budget, passage/sequestration cuts triple-decker Armageddon sandwich of 2013.
Never let a good crisis go to waste, indeed. Not when it has the potential to be a great crisis.