The fast approaching Congressional Debt Ceiling deadline is playing out as a slow motion train wreck, one that has perhaps a fair chance of becoming a full blown economic train wreck.
While there is blame on both political parties, I am again aghast at the current methods of the Republican Party I spent 30 years within.
Using the debt ceiling increase as a political hostage is profoundly irresponsible. While Republicans control only one House of Congress, they demand they be able to completely dictate the conditions of the debate. Ordinarily you need a voting majority to do this. By holding this debt vote hostage, they seek to extort their desires instead of winning them in a vote. One Republican Senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, has threatened to filibuster any vote to raise the ceiling so it will fail.
Republican rationales for this extraordinary and egregious maneuver fall flat. They characterize their actions as taking the credit card away from an overspending Federal government. Actually, raising the debt ceiling will pay for past spending, not cut off future spending.
And what produced this recent, outsized, debt that the debt ceiling increase will pay for, you ask? Why, two wars and an expensive drug bill, all funded off-budget, coupled with three federal tax cuts, all brought to us by the previous, Republican, administration. Yet, somehow the Republicans want us to believe the current administration ran up all these bills and must be corralled.
From one point of view (Keynesian) the government spent too little on stimulus, not too much. After the initial stimulus bill in 2009, the economy stopped falling and started slowly recovering. Since the 2010 election, however, the economy has stalled as no further stimulus or government aid to states has been proposed or approved. In addition, President Obama has moved toward the middle ground of the debate and joined Republicans in calling, incredulously, for austerity in the face of a faltering economy, tantamount to bleeding a patient to help him recover. His reward for such a move has resulted in unemployment going up recently instead of down.
The second Republican policy non-sequitur is their prediction that further lowering tax rates and cutting federal spending will produce jobs, except these two policies have been in place for the past year and a half and have not created jobs. Tax income as a percentage of the GNP is the lowest since the Eisenhower administration, how low do they want to go? Also, repeated lowering of tax rates not off-set by spending cuts by the last administration produced much of the current deficit and presaged a devastating recession. Have we forgotten so soon?
Finally, this debt limit extortion attempt means either party can now use similar ploys in the future so the minority party can hamstring the majority on anything, any time. Do Republicans not realize they are creating a monster that may devour us all in the future?
I suspect the Republicans are purposely thwarting any and all attempts to resuscitate the economy for crass political advantage in the 2012 election. They have proposed none of the jobs bills they promised and have even reneged on several jobs bills they had previously sponsored. What would their purpose be in this except to delay any economic recovery until after the upcoming election?
I see a strong temptation for Republicans to prevent a debt limit increase and to force repeated, temporary extensions that would each force federal spending cuts but forbid tax increases. This would keep their Tea Party fringe happy and result in a death-by-repeated-cuts accomplishment of Republican goals. It would also threaten a renewed recession, or worse, and produce several more years of high unemployment.
So I am preparing for a Republican, politically-induced, economic catastrophe and hoping we somehow escape as the electorate begins to understand the crude and self-serving basis of Republican actions that sacrifice American living standards for political gain.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.