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Debt Ceiling Cliff Diving

January 6, 2013

The Congressional Republicans should save their cliff diving for Acapulco during their next undeserved recess. Threatening to hold the American people hostage once again by threatening to shut down the government and refusing to raise the debt ceiling has gotten old. Telling the world that they will not allow debts accrued by spending that has already taken place to fulfill obligations included in legislation they themselves passed is irresponsible if not downright treasonous, because it threatens to throw the nation into unprecedented financial and economic turmoil.

The initial fiscal cliff was belatedly averted – or should I say merely delayed – by an agreement passed by both houses of Congress on Jan. 1. This agreement included hardly any revenue increases, no spending cuts and additional corporate welfare. More the act of a group of legislators fearing the wrath of taxpayers at the ending of the Bush tax cuts the an attempt to cut the deficit. Almost every taxpayer got a tax raise anyway, as the two year payroll tax holiday ended at the same time. So revenue increases did not match what is needed to meet deficit reduction goals, and spending cuts which were due to go into effect on Jan. 1 were deferred for two-months to conveniently coincide once again with reaching the debt ceiling.

Republican Congressional leaders have already stated publicly that they intend to use another debt ceiling fight to extract significant spending reductions in non-defense budget areas. Programs most often mentioned are the so-called entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, but also include other important programs such as Food Stamps and other vital programs for the health and well-being of the most vulnerable in our society. These cuts are all expected to take place without any further revenue increases caused by tax increases for the top 2% of taxpayers.

As stated earlier, Congress should never have passed legislation requiring borrowing money which they then intended not to repay the lenders. This sort of brinkmanship resulted in a downgrading of US debt. Continued demonstrations of governmental irresponsibility  are unlikely to enhance our status in the world financial community and may, in fact probably will, further damage financial markets here and abroad. The extent these people seem willing to go in order to protect the interests of a very few highly privileged members of our society from paying their fair share of the load when it comes to protecting it and all its citizens in the future is appalling.

My biggest problem with this “negotiating” strategy that we have witnessed ever since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 midterm elections is the fact that it dominates the discussions of everything in Washington to the exclusion of all else. They go on recess at the drop of a hat anyway, and all business seems to be conducted by a very small percentage of our elected representatives behind closed doors. Nothing comes to a vote until right at or shortly after a self-imposed deadline, and then all that passes is some sort of agreement to tide them over until they can come up with something to REALLY solve the issues after the next election, holiday, or whatever.

The main losers in all this dysfunction are 99% of the American people. We are told by the GOP that the only way forward from the deficit morass is to cut spending, despite the fact that most economists have concluded that drastically cutting spending now will only serve to thrust the economy into another recession. Recession means more need for unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. and less revenues to pay for them and so on and so forth as infinitum in a dangerous spiral that improves things – how? Others disagree and say that more revenues are needed as well. More jobs would bring in more revenues in the way of income and payroll taxes and require less spending on the social programs that help people make ends meet when the economy is less robust. However, creating jobs requires stimulus money that private enterprise has been loathe to supply despite hearty tax breaks and record profits.

Discussions that make it to mainstream media usually touch on generalities such as how many billions of dollars they want to cut from various programs and how each side envisions meeting their monetary goals. Specifics in how to attain these are few and far between, and to say that how the result will affect each of us as individuals or families is blurry would be to make an understatement of the highest order. There is practically no discussion on the part of either side of alternatives that may actually meet the needs of the people more fully or in a less costly manner. They seem intent on pruning a tree with a hand grenade or trimming toenails with an axe.

I read on a daily basis articles discussing the pros and cons of various policy alternatives to strengthen the economy, reduce wasteful spending and make our society a more fair, equitable and compassionate place in which to live. Rarely do I see evidence that much of it gets any kind of hearing at the level of the state or federal government, nor do I see any sort of imaginative thinking along these lines among those in the mainstream media. It should not be a matter of just making the numbers come out right. They need to come out right because we are taking the right path to running the economy and government in the best possible manner. Some think that is to have a society where a few get all the breaks and most of the good, thinking it is their due, while others struggle to survive to a golden age of retirement when they can live in poor health eating cat food. Neither fate is deserved, in my opinion, and we should be striving to make sure that such extreme inequalities eradicated, not increased. Everyone must be treated with the dignity, respect and compassion that we all deserve as human beings.

Congress needs to get to work to make this country work. Stop the hostage taking and the endless reruns of past legislative disasters and strive to make this country and the world a better place to live in for all. Stop trying to return to the society that existed prior to the New Deal and Great Society and figure out ways to fund them and run them so that they work better. Most of us have seen the society that the Tea Party and the 1% appear intent on forcing down our throats and voted against it last November. Represent the interests of ALL of your constituents, not just the ones who could afford to contribute money to your election campaigns. We’ve seen enough of your gridlock and refusal to act to resolve problems to last a lifetime. The time has come for you perform the jobs and meet the responsibilities to which you agreed when we elected you. Need a clue? We did not elect you to play a game of kick the can while our lives deteriorate in the wake of your ineffectual governance. If a TV station chooses to show bad reruns all the time, it is easy to change the channel. Changing the government makeup is not as easy or quick, but it will happen if you keep repeating the same old reruns.

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