Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 30, 2011

CREATING BIMONTHLY DEBT CRISES -- ON PURPOSE.... While sane people realize that raising the debt ceiling is a necessity, there's been some talk this week about congressional Republicans weighing incremental raises.

The assumption has been that Congress and the White House would raise the debt limit by a large enough amount to cover the annual deficit. A GOP member of the House Budget Committee said this week his party might prefer a piecemeal approach -- raise the ceiling a little, in exchange for a ransom, then raise a little more, in exchange for another ransom, and so on.

The idea seems to be gaining some momentum and moving beyond the insider-scuttlebutt phase.

House Republicans are considering a plan to grant only incremental increases to the federal debt limit in a bid to extract more concessions on spending cuts and budgetary reform from the Obama administration.

The idea has a champion in Grover Norquist, the conservative activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, who says he is "building allies" in the House Republican Conference to push for extending the debt limit every two months.

Yesterday, a right-wing freshman from Kansas, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R), also endorsed the "shorter time-frame" approach as a way to exercise "leverage" over more responsible policymakers.

I found Jamelle Bouie's response pretty compelling.

In essence, right-wing House members are proposing a schedule of periodic debt crises, as the United States scrambles to meet its obligations every two months. In addition to being a complete waste of time, foreign investors would flock from the U.S. debt, once they understood that our Congress had committed itself to long-term political dysfunction.

Not only is this insane, but it's worth remembering that these people have a real shot at winning the White House in 2012.

There was a period of time -- I believe it's called "January 2009 through December 2010" -- that congressional Republicans swore up and down that "economic uncertainty" was the single most dangerous threat in the world. To thrive, policymakers must stamp out uncertainty wherever it exists, which will in turn generate confidence and expand investments.

And yet, here we are. Facing the threat of a deliberate GOP-created crisis, the new Republican plan is to create new crises, every other month, for the indefinite future.

Indeed, playing incremental games with the ability of the country to pay its bills sends a loud signal to foreign countries and markets around the globe: there are just enough children in positions of authority in Congress to cause genuine concern about the nation's finances.

The only thing worse than policymakers fighting over the debt ceiling is policymakers fighting over the debt ceiling every other month. The only thing more irresponsible than Republicans holding the economy hostage is Republicans holding the economy hostage on a bimonthly basis.

After the midterms, I expected American politics to get more ridiculous. I probably underestimated just how spectacularly stupid conditions could get.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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"The only thing more irresponsible than Republicans holding the economy hostage is Republicans holding the economy hostage on a bimonthly basis."

This is a feature.
Not a bug.

They want the economy in worse shape because they believe that's their path back to total control of the government and power.
And may God help us if they do.

Party over country!


Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 30, 2011 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Just so we're clear... permanently raising income taxes on the richest Americans by 3% creates "uncertainty," but forcing votes on whether America will default on its debt every two months and holding out until the last second doesn't.

Posted by: Uncertain on April 30, 2011 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

In a drunk with power moment beset upon House Republicans, they have circled the wagons, because their intoxicated condition has not allowed them to see others (economists, Wall St., people with common sense) as vital contributors to the solutions we need for our economic woes!

Damn it, those House Republicans are gonna fix us, even if they must destroy us to do so! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 30, 2011 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

"I probably underestimated just how spectacularly stupid conditions could get"

Perhaps, you may also have underestimated how singularly craven and desperate the GOP had become. Forget wondering how little they care who gets hurt: they are bent on hurting people so they can blame Obama. It's absolutely sick and treasonous.

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on April 30, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Death by a thousand cuts.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on April 30, 2011 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many times Republican leaders use the phrase "not intended as a factual statement" when talking to foreign leaders.

Posted by: Danp on April 30, 2011 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Let's just skip to the end and institute a system of Danegeld right now. Which billionaire do I owe? Do they take plastic or will I literally need to locate roman pounds of silver?

Also, how much longer do we have to wait for indentured servitude and debtor prisons make a comeback? If living hand to mouth hasn't fixed the poor then we need bring back some real consequences!

Posted by: sven on April 30, 2011 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

It's been said before, and it needs to be said again: ransom should not even be discussed. Obama needs to get the weak-kneed Dems (especially Kent Conrad) in his office to get everybody on the same page. They will only vote on and sign a clean bill. Period.

Posted by: Chris on April 30, 2011 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Go For Broke

"Clean bill", my tush. Democrats need to hold out for a complete repeal of the debt ceiling limitation.

See today's "Pearls Before Swine" where the evil Rat asks sweet&gullible Pig "Hey Pig, can I drop you into a cage of angry hyper-territorial baboons?" Pig replies "No." Then Rat asks "Could I at least borrow $10?" to which the answer is "Sure."

Concluding panel where Rat is explaining to the intellectual Goat "The key to negotiations is to start big."

Thus, the Democrats in both House and Senate should also start from the liberal budget proposed by the House's Progressive Caucus.

Posted by: zandru on April 30, 2011 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Why aren't the corporations and even small businesses coming out publicly and strongly against these maniacs? How can their lunacy possibly be good for business, much less the country. I don't understand it.

Posted by: CDW on April 30, 2011 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Grover Norquist told Lawrence O'Donnell he is against stopping subsidies to the oil companies because it would mean more money could flow into Federal coffers. He has never changed his view of drowning government.

However, for the newly elected farmer from Kansas to speak of this is ludicrous in an area where so many farmers exist on the governmental dole.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 30, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

The last paragraph can probably be copied and pasted onto every post you make between now and November 2012.

Posted by: dp on April 30, 2011 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

It is long past time for the President to take the position that the debt ceiling doesn't really exist and is effectively unenforceable. Any legislation that is passed after the debt ceiling goes into effect, that authorizes the spending of money or requires the spending of money to implement, and that doesn't specifically reenact the debt ceiling or otherwise limit implementation spending on debt ceiling terms acts to void the debt ceiling.

This is a position that has the virtue of having the entirety of legal history and logic behind it in support. Past legislation does not bind future legislation. When two pieces of legislation conflict, the one enacted later in time governs. The only limited exception to this in U.S. law is when earlier legislation gives rise to a due process or similarly constitutionally protected interest, an exception that simply can't apply with regard to the debt ceiling.

Posted by: R. Johnston on April 30, 2011 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Once again I have to ask "Who gives a f%$k what Grover Norquist thinks or wants. the man is a frigging lobbyist plain and simple and he does not represent the American taxpayers. He represents the very wealthy in their drive to turn this country into a third world plutocracy. When is someone in power going to take this sucker on and expose him for what he is????

Posted by: sparky on April 30, 2011 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce Bartlett had an article yesterday saying Obama should tell the Republicans to go f themselves, ignore the debt limit, and order Treasury to sell enough securities to cover the debt.

Sounds like a plan.

Posted by: Holmes on April 30, 2011 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

I guess their brilliant idea is to destroy the country in order to save it.

Posted by: sparrow on April 30, 2011 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

@R Johnson

I like your logic. That, and the "emergency powers" argument could effectively neuter the Republican threat over the debt ceiling - forever.

It's time.

Posted by: zandru on April 30, 2011 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are coming out looking like THE most irresponsible people in government, under the guise of being 'the adults,' 'serious' and 'fiscally conservative.'

They are a wrecking crew, and hope the wrecking of America's economy, health care, social security and medicare will get them elected to power once again.

If Americans have not seen through them yet, then literally god help us.

Posted by: jjm on April 30, 2011 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

As Rachel Maddow commented a few nights ago, if you get up and let your dog out every time he whines, you have effectively taught your dog to whine incessantly. That is what Obama has done with serial captitulation on the tax cut extension, the current year budget, etc. Unfortunately, the debtlu limit is a very bad place to decide to call their bluff.

Posted by: dcsusie on April 30, 2011 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

To dcsusie: re "serial capitulation."

It looks like that to you, but not to everyone. If Obama had not extended the Bush tax cuts, as he was demanding the Democratic congress do for months before December and they refused, then he had little choice: otherwise, no legislation would have passed, AND the economic picture would have worsened considerably for the middle class.

Now that they are an issue, the Republicans who IMAGINE as you do that Obama is weak and a 'caver' are coming out of the closet as the extreme pro-corporate pro-wealth party that they really are, despite their completely pseudo and absolutely false 'populist' rhetoric.

Everyone knows now who they are really FOR; before these last few months, all the cynics were pretending both parties were exactly alike in their outlook, goals and shortsighted social policies.

And that, I have to say, is an absolutely stunning achievement politically. Has any Democratic politician been able to expose Republican motives and their duplicity so much? All because, like you, they deeply believe he is weak. Republicans cannot, after all, even being to imagine that since he is a black man, he wouldn't just play the part of a Step 'n Fetchit for the wealthy.

Posted by: jjm on April 30, 2011 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

re jjm @ 2:15 PM -

Excellent summary!
If Republican/Teabaggers devoted 1/2 the time effort to actually governing AS THEY CAMPAIGNED, this wouldn't have been possible and they'd have still been in a position to mislead uncertain voters.
They have continually misread a willingness to compromise as weakness; not realizing the compromises President Obama has made were with members of HIS OWN PARTY, and were made to get legislation he approved of passed.
These liars, as proven by their 2010 campaign rhetoric and current positions, apparently believe that President Obama will compromise to get ANYTHING passed, which is NOT what has occurred.
There is too much on record now and if the economic sh*t does hit the fan, the Republican/Teabaggers WILL be blamed for it. And fairly. Not even the pathetic "Beltway" bunch, aka known as "enablers", will be able to deflect the country's anger.
But I'm sure they'll try...

Posted by: Doug on April 30, 2011 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

This insane plan practically insures a default on our debt, sooner or later. Six or eight or ten months down the road, the Teabaggers will demand something the Dems and the Prez won't be able to negotiate away, and KABLOOEY! The debt ceiling doesn't get raised, and the USA completes its transition to a third world economy.

Posted by: LeeV on April 30, 2011 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Every two months propose a tax increase on billionaires that is equal to 10% of the spending cuts proposed.

GOP screams bloody murder and it becomes plainly obvious who really wants to tank the economy.

I don't see them winning this one if the Dems want to win. (a debatable question, to be sure.)

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 30, 2011 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't help that most of the country doesn't understand what the debt ceiling is, and the Republicans are promoting ignorance on the subject.

But I have to wonder... The GOP has already turned on AARP, now they seem intent on spooking the financial markets. At what point do they finally alienate their friends? (I have exactly zero hope the Democrats willl do anything even slightly useful here, but maybe the GOP will eventually implode?)

Posted by: Mike on April 30, 2011 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP is full of BS on this and will be called to heel by their corporate masters long before the markets feel threatened. It's a no-lose situation for Dems to call them on their threat. The GOP will retreat tail between legs because of Wall Street, not the Dems, but in the popular mind it will look like the Dems won and the GOP is a whipped cur. That will infuriate their idiot primary voters.

Take 'em to the mat. Call the bluff, loudly, dramatically. Double-super dare them. Democrats should sit out the vote in the House and require the GOP to own the vote raising the debt limit.

Posted by: Jon on April 30, 2011 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

To further elucidate: Boehner should be granting the Democrats concessions if he needs their votes to pass the bill raising the ceiling, not vice versa. He can yell all he wants, but *he* is in the weak position, not the Democrats.

Posted by: Jon on April 30, 2011 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans and those who vote for them are just too stupid for words.

Posted by: Bonnie on April 30, 2011 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

Essentially, not raising the debt ceiling forces the US into a \"paygo\" approach to governance - immediately. While that may sound nice to some, the roughly $2.17 trillion the Federal Government will collect in fiscal year 2011 is just about what's needed to fund National Defense ($768bn), Veterans Benefits($141bn), Social Security ($748 bn) and Medicare ($494bn) - and that's it. This doesn't even include interest on the debt.

I would very much like to know how Congressional Republicans would like facing their unpaid staff every day, explaining to constituents why the federal prisons have been emptied, and telling farmer John why he isn't getting his ethanol subsidy. And the list goes on.

If I could figure this out with the internet, a spreadsheet and a spare hour - Congressional Republicans must know it too. If they're not willing to cut some of these programs OR raise revenue - and they haven't been up to this point - they're not really serious. This is all just a cynical ploy to get media attention and keep the White House on the defensive.

Posted by: Bob on May 1, 2011 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK
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