People keep telling me that a deal on raising the debt ceiling will definitely happen. It must happen. Both sides agree it must happen. The fate of the global economy depends on no less. They’re back at the negotiation table. Sure, Speaker Boehner walked out on Friday, but he was back in the White House on Saturday. Some kind of product must emerge from these negotiations.
A few days ago, as I was walking down the street in Lower Manhattan, I saw a man reach into a garbage can, fish out an open can of soda, and chug whatever was left in it. It was a hot day, but Jesus Christ.
At this point, any product that would emerge from negotiations between the President and the Tea Party would be as valuable as that can of soda.
Those who believe otherwise must also believe that the behavior of the House Republican majority—intransigent to the point of nihilism–will radically change in the next week. That’s right: we have one week left until default. One week left before the crash.
Here is an example of the behavior of the new House Republican Majority. Allen West is a freshman GOP Congressman from Florida, a star of the 2010 Tea Party wave. He is an Iraq War veteran, discharged from the service after torturing an Iraqi police officer. Most people would try to put that kind of shameful incident behind them. West returned home and campaigned on it. Successfully.
A couple of weeks ago, Congressman West shot off an email to Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose congressional district adjoins his. In the email, he wrote, “You are the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!” Not done, he followed that up with “You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!” Then he copied most of Congress on the email, just to let everyone else know how hurt his feelings were.
What did Debbie Wasserman Schultz do to poor Mr. West to provoke such a tirade? Steal his daughter’s Justin Bieber tickets? Drown his cat? Assert the supremacy of Mellencamp over Springsteen?
Even worse. This “lady” had the nerve to actually describe Allen West’s plans for Medicare recipients, via the debt ceiling negotiations: “The gentleman from Florida. who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries, unbelievable from a Member from South Florida”.
That’s it. That’s what set him off. In West’s defense, perhaps he felt physically threatened by Wasserman Schultz. After all, she does look awfully intimidating.
These are the kinds of people President Obama is trying to negotiate a debt ceiling increase out of. Crazy people. Not to say they aren’t serious people. No, these people take themselves very, very seriously. As to their role as stewards of our nation’s well-being? Taken about as seriously as a box of Lucky Charms.
All of which leads me to the president. President Obama has been excruciatingly reasonable, patient, and fair as he negotiates with crazy people. If he keeps this up, it is not only going to destroy our global economy. It is going to destroy his presidency.
You see, when Speaker Boehner walked out on Friday, he didn’t just go home and say he’s doing nothing. No, he went back to the House GOP caucus, where he announced that if the administration could not arrange a deal between the White House, the House and the Senate, the House GOP majority would simply “act alone”.
What does that even mean? How would just the House, only half of one branch of government, “act alone” in any meaningful way? Isn’t there a Senate that would have to come to an agreement with the House? Don’t I remember something about a President who would have to agree to sign something at the end, too?
It would work like this: the House GOP passes one of the most right-wing pieces of legislation ever seen in American history. It includes the long-term gutting of Medicare and Social Security. It requires a totally unworkable and un-passable Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This “deficit reduction” bill includes absolutely no new revenue, not even in the form of slightly higher taxes on the very wealthy. Once passed, Boehner announces that the House has now created the plan to save our country from defaulting on our debt. He will point to the president and Senate, and say they are holding hostage our economy by refusing to pass his bill, and they are responsible if default occurs. The Democrats then face the prospect of either passing an execrable piece of legislation that rips to tatters any principles they have with regards to providing Americans a safety net, or allowing our nation to default on its debt, sending our country right back into a severe recession, or perhaps even a global depression. That’s the choice Boehner intends to give the president and Harry Reid.
If the president acquiesces to Boehner’s “deal”, not only will it have dramatically negative consequences for the long-term viability of programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It will bust his presidency wide open. The left, already disillusioned, may desert him for selling out. The right will have been handed an extremely powerful new weapon: the ability to dictate policy to the president every time a debt ceiling votes comes up. By holding the American government hostage every time there is a debt ceiling vote, Speaker Boehner would effectively become President Boehner, able to wring almost any concession out of the administration in return for a debt ceiling vote—a vote that until this moment, was never traded by any Congress for anything. Already, Boehner is working to ensure that this charade gets repeated next year, just as the presidential campaign goes into full swing. The country that allows this to go on would no longer be a functioning democracy.
Mr. President, can we talk about that 14th Amendment option again? I know you’re a former law professor, while I have only held court with my cats to determine fair and just treat apportionment, so I don’t pretend to share your legal expertise. Still, give it another look, professor. Section 4 of the amendment reads as follows:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void. (bold emphasis mine)
Many prominent legal scholars and respected economists believe this language provides the president the statutory authority to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional, ignore it, and direct the Treasury Department to continue issuing debt. Others claim that only Congress has power over spending. You, Mr. President, have already pooh-poohed this option, along with Secretary Geithner. The theory goes that if you are sincerely attempting to pry a deal out of Congress, the last thing you want to do is say a deal is unnecessary, because you’ve decided to act unilaterally. Also, the Tea Party is already threatening impeachment if you go there. Never as fun as it sounds.
But really, Mr. President—you are not going to get a deal worth having out of these people. They aren’t going to let you have a deal worth having. They will only give you a deal that mortally wounds you. Who can blame them? They’ve discovered the most potent piece of political leverage in years, and all it is costing them is their own sense of shame. That hasn’t been worth anything to them in at least a decade.
Take that leverage away. Announce that with the walking out of Speaker Boehner on Friday evening, further talks have lost any meaningful purpose. After all, that would be the second time Republican leaders have walked out on these talks, after being offered everything they want with nothing required in return. Announce there is no time left for Congress to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling, and therefore no time left to prevent irreparable harm to the economy. And you will not accept any further harm to our economy. So you are going (to quote Speaker Boehner) act alone. Debt will continue to be issued by the Treasury, while a long-term deficit-reduction deal is still negotiated on the side. But no deal will be made at the point of a gun while you are President. The American people elected a Democratic President in 2008, and a Republican House in 2010. They did not elect an out-of-control Speaker to hold their economy hostage to the whims of a staggeringly irresponsible coterie of ideologues.
The House GOP will certainly consider impeachment hearings in response because…that’s what they do. Let them take that case to the public: that the president needs to be removed from office because he refused to allow our country to slip into a depression. I wonder if they remember how well that worked out for them the last time.
Amy Winehouse, one of the most talented singer/songwriters of the last decade, was found dead in her home under “unexplained circumstances” on Saturday. In addition to her musical gifts, she was also one of most broken individuals ever to grace the public eye, teetering between a massive addiction to drugs and alcohol on one hand, and a horribly co-dependent marriage on the other. She was the Billie Holiday of her short time, in all the wonderful and tragic ways that could be.
One of my fondest memories is playing Amy’s breakthrough album “Back To Black” for my mother for the first time. She and I have not shared too many musical tastes in recent years. But for the rest of that weekend together, whenever we would drive somewhere, or play music in the background while we were cooking, she would ask, “What about some more Amy Winehouse?” The following Mother’s Day, I sent her the album as a present, and my childhood home reportedly became an ongoing Amy concert. When I asked her what she loved so much about this artist she had seemingly little in common with, my mom replied that, “she makes me feel…young.”
Thank you Amy. R.I.P.