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Debt Debate Ignores History, Common Sense

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks to the media after meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, right, about the debt limit. (Yuri Gripas / Reuters / July 15, 2011)

As if one needed further evidence that the Republican party and the conservative “movement” has completely left the planet, we get this fantastic debate about raising the debt ceiling. This is not so much a debate, as a group of either very misinformed or willfully ignorant right-wing yahoos putting a gun to the head of the economy.

The worst part being that there is certainly a minority of this minority, who doesn’t even want to hold a hostage. They just want to pull the trigger.

In all likelihood, we’ll get this fallback option of $1.5 trillion in cuts over ten years, yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to the insane contours of this debate.

To say the Republicans have turned their backs on common sense is an understatement. They have a Democratic president willing to make draconian cuts to every important program and agency run by the U.S. government from Medicare to Social Security to the E.P.A., and all they have to do in exchange is close some obvious tax loopholes (when was the last time Big Oil failed to turn a profit? Anyone?) and raise rates on millionaires and billionaires–or as they are sometimes hilariously referred to “Job Creators” (certainly leaving their taxes at historic lows for the last decade has paid off!).

Yet this deal is now unthinkable because it would mean violating a bizarre shibboleth of the right that no increase in government revenue of any kind can happen for any reason. For years, the left feared the religious right while misunderestimating the power of tax cut theocracy, which has proven just as frightening. It’s an article of faith along the lines of pernicious deregulation, which almost led the world to economic catastrophe just three years ago.

Furthermore, the debt-ceiling debate basically ignores any reasonable interpretation of American history. The current deficit is largely a creation of Republicans, who under George W. Bush and several Republican congresses put in place a tax cut geared largely toward people who will never talk to you unless you jump over the gate at their country club that cost $2 trillion over 10 years.

The 2003 Medicare prescription drug plan was another $500 billion tacked to the bill, which seems extra-silly when you consider how simple it would be to open the border to Canadian drugs, but that’s because the Republican party isn’t actually interested in the kind of free markets and competition that threatens its Pharma base.

And let’s not forget the Iraq War, which has cost roughly $1 trillion so far, but I guess that did create a lot of jobs for 18 year-old farm kids and prosthetic limb manufacturers.

And finally, the real reason we’re in this sinkhole is the recession spurred by a housing bubble and unregulated derivatives market, which could certainly be classified as bipartisan failures, but which also grew and came to shocking fruition under the leadership of mostly Republican politicians who have since been working tirelessly to gut even the most modest attempt at Wall Street reform, most recently by threatening to roadblock Elizabeth Warren’s nomination to head the new Consumer Protection Agency. Rumor has it she’s now considering a Massachusetts senate run (do it!).

The point being that the modern Republican party has almost no interest in actually constraining the size of government or they would have done it when they had the chance. If they were interested in deficit reduction they would take the “Grand Bargain” seriously. This isn’t Eisenhower holding the military in check while watching out for McCarthyites on his right flank. This is a bunch of hacks trying to score political points on issues they appear to not even fully understand.

Most bizarrely, some Republicans are even attempting to say nothing will happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, and if it does, it’s because Obama is scaring people. Yes, because banks don’t come and kick you out of your house when you don’t pay your bills. That’s just a scare tactic.

It’s also worth pointing out just how many terrible ideas Republicans want to wring from this hostage negotiation, the best example being the Balanced Budget Amendment. To the untrained ear, this may sound like a good idea: a constitutional amendment that says the government must have a balanced budget every year. Yet when you consider the endless moments in American history when deficit spending saved not only the Union (Civil War) but possibly the world (World War II), not to mention the political nightmare that would ensue each and every year (imagine the vitriol of this debt ceiling debate each and every twelve months) you begin to understand why that’s a terrible idea.

Yet in the end any vitriol toward those in Congress is pointless since we do live in a democracy. It’s probably better aimed at all the people who sat on their hands in 2010 while the lunatics took over the asylum.