Will Allison: Watching the Ceiling Cave In

On August 2, the United States of America is set to default on its debt obligations.  I am not an economist, and would not deign to pretend that I understand the economic repercussions of such a move.  However, I do have another important credential, and that is called a “survival instinct.”  This instinct is stronger than I remembered.

 

I know this, because I am now up at 3am, scared right out my damn sleep from the horror movie that would be defaulting on our nation’s debt.  I have read too many of these Freddy Krueger-themed articles not to believe it.  Phrases like “global financial meltdown”, “financial apocalypse”, “the American economy dragging the global economy down the drain”, and “millions of unemployed joined by millions moreown me now, people.  This is a cry for help.

The raising of the debt ceiling, typically a pro forma vote Congress takes every year to meet our rising spending obligations, has met a wall this summer with a newly emboldened, GOP-controlled House.  This House is heavily influenced if not directed by the Tea Party, willing to risk default to deal with what it feels is our top fiscal priority: spending cuts. In response, the Democrats, true to their nature, have already offered massive concessions on spending, in return for some kind—any kind—of tax increase on the very wealthy.  The GOP has replied with “no”.  Despite their deficit-obsessed rhetoric, they are not interested in increasing revenues to lower the deficit.  They only want spending cuts, and apparently are willing to allow our economy to collapse if they don’t get exactly that, only that, and on a massive scale.

And so it goes.  The Republican Party’s “top negotiator” on the debt ceiling, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has already walked out of the talks.  Democrats, in return, have begun to urge the President to invoke a little-known clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that may legally require our nation not to default on its debt.  The President could simply say he’s not legally allowed to permit our nation to default, and instruct the Treasury to continue to pay the bills.  The GOP’s response is to threaten impeachment if the president goes that route, claiming he will have superseded Congress’ power of the purse.  I am going insane trying to keep up with this stuff, people.

Speaking of insanity, it probably bears pointing out that the raising of the debt ceiling is to pay for things Congress already authorized.  To pay the tab for the dinners that Congress has already ordered and gorged on.  Now, this same Congress—a Congress which was controlled by the GOP for the last 12 out of 16 years, a Congress which raised the debt ceiling every single year of that period with nary a whine, a Congress that ordered up two wars it could not afford and did not budget—says that now, under a Democratic President, we must cancel the overdraft coverage and bounce the check.  I remember when I bounced checks.  It was called college.

It’s rare to have a political battle unfold in Washington, the outcome of which will affect all of us.  Not some of us.  Not just the poor.  Not just the marginalized.  Not just the rich.  EVERYONE has a stake in what happens by August 2.  If you are on food stamps, you will probably lose those food stamps.  If you are collecting unemployment, that office will likely be closed indefinitely.  If you are out of work and looking for it, your competition—already mind-boggling—just grew to the insurmountable.  If you are like me and lucky enough to have a decent job in this sorry excuse for an economy, your job just became very, very endangered.  If you are rich, you really might not be by September.  Or, you might be lucky enough to get my job!

Yep, this thing looks like it’s really going to happen, folks.  Here are some of the thoughts running through my entirely self-centered consciousness as I contemplate life after default:

 

I am leaving this weekend for a trip with my parents, planned almost a year ago.  I’m starting to feel like that kind of extravagance is whistling past the graveyard.

Ditto for another trip to Louisville to celebrate my niece’s 1st birthday.

My wife and I live in a modest apartment in an even more modest (dare I say “tough”) neighborhood, while she is finishing law school.  In the fall, she has a terrific job lined up, which will enable us to get out of this place and hopefully start a family somewhere safe (dare I say “nice”?).  Is that even going to be a possibility in one month?

Speaking of that terrific job my wife has lined up: will it exist come August 3rd?

I eat out too much.  I rarely never make my lunch and take it to work.  I burn through money others would be much more responsible with.  I haven’t saved nearly enough.  I’m a jerk for that alone.

I am, of course, under no illusions that any of that compares to the struggles and indignities the jobless suffer through on a daily basis.  Am I just warming myself up for the prospect of entering their ranks, via pre-emptive atonement?

UPDATE: Looks like the administration just took the 14th Amendment option off the table.  Nice move, guys!  Why would you want any options in a hostage situation, after all?

 

It appears that Tim Geithner does not believe that the Treasury has the right to authorize the issuing of debt—only Congress does.  But if Congress already authorized the expenditures that are causing this debt to exist in the first place…Ah yes!  Now I see why no other Congress in American history has ever been so stupid as to even contemplate what they are about to do!

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I know it’s been over a week, but we New Yorkers are still celebrating the passage of the marriage equality act.  Lately, things have been damned upsetting on just about every other front (see above), so having marriage equality break through in our state is a rare moment of idealistic satisfaction.  Otherwise known as “Good News”.

The afternoon after the vote passed, I walked through the West Village with a buddy of mine who was visiting from out of town.  A member of New York City’s clipboard mafia stepped in our path, asking, “Do you have a minute for gay rights?”  At first, I was tempted to ape Aziz Ansari’s brilliant take on this situation.  But then, I realized, we did have a minute for gay rights.  The Stonewall Inn was a mere three blocks away!

New York City is the birthplace of the gay rights movement.  It was born here 42 years and a week ago on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn.  Stonewall was one of the only bars in NYC that allowed gay men and women to openly socialize as themselves.  For that reason, it was also subject to continuous raids by the police.  On the early morning of June 28, the patrons suffered one raid too many, and responded by rioting and fighting with the NYPD.  Riots continued the following evening, and from these sprang a groundswell of openness and organizing, culminating in gay rights groups forming around the country, and the beginning of the march towards legalizing equality.  I felt that with the marriage news from the night before, we should at least stop in Stonewall and pay our respects.  With a drink.

Now, my friend is probably the straightest man on the planet.  While he is entirely pro-gay rights and just as happy as I was about marriage equality coming to New York, he was somewhat less thrilled about the prospect of visiting his first gay bar.  I think he may have seen the Police Academy movies a few too many times, and pictured us surrounded by hairy men wearing biker hats, leather chaps and not much else.  I assured him it would be much more boring than that.  He was a good sport and complied.

When we got to Stonewall, about the most festive item on display were some rainbow-themed ribbons over the awning, along with a horde of people pouring in and out.  Once we were able to actually get through the crowd to the bar, I bought us a round of drinks.  We were definitely surrounded by lots of gay men, but they weren’t particularly interested in us.  They were almost all couples, and they were only focused on each other.  Most were middle-aged, or seniors.  I wondered what the older ones were thinking at this historic moment, after a lifetime of choosing between the closet and themselves.  My buddy said, “It’s really very normal, isn’t it?”  We raised our glasses to the best news of the decade.

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