Political Animal


January 04, 2013 3:26 PM The Deeper Problem With Media Acceptance of Republican Irresponsibility

By Ed Kilgore

Alarms are going up all over the progressive commentariat about the early signs of Beltway complacency—particularly in the MSM—about Republicans threats to wreak holy havoc on the economy by taking the debt limit hostage to their spending demands (more for the Pentagon, less for everything else).

TNR’s Alec MacGillis, quoting WaPo’s Greg Sargent extensively, lays out the complaint most efficiently:

It is striking to what degree the Washington establishment has come to normalize Republican hostage-taking of the debt limit, to see it as a predictable and almost natural element of the political landscape. Greg Sargent argues convincingly why this is a problem, noting that the debt ceiling must be raised to pay for past spending, and should not be used as a chip in negotiating future budgets: “In the current context, conservatives and Republicans who hold out against a debt limit hike are, in practical terms, only threatening the full faith and credit of the United States — and threatening to damage the economy — in order to get what they want. Any accounts that don’t convey this with total clarity — and convey the sense that this is a normal negotiation — are essentially misleading people. It’s that simple.”
What bears stating even more strongly, though, is how far we’ve come from 2011, when the Washington establishment viewed the Republicans’ threat of credit default as as the utterly brazen and unprecedented step that it was. Even those who supported the gambit recognized it as a newly deployed weapon.

I agree with all that, and with MacGillis’ assessment of early media coverage of the debt limit fight as just another episode of the usual partisan follies.

But there is a deeper problem that makes adequate media treatment of GOP posturing very difficult: an inability to grasp and explain the underlying radicalism of conservative doctrine on federal domestic spending. Exhibit One, of course, was the frequent refusal to understand the fundamental change in the role of the federal government that was the object of the Ryan Budget, particularly its first iteration. And rarely did major MSM writers and gabbers bother to suggest that immediate implementation of the Ryan Budget via the budget reconciliation process would have been the predictable result of an election where Romney won and Republicans won control of the Senate.

But Exhibit Two, and far more relevant today, is the baseline for conservative positioning on the debt limit, the Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge, signed by Mitt Romney himself in 2011 and championed by the powerful House Study Committee, to which 165 Republicans in the 112th Congress belonged (there’s no updated list for the 113d, but there’s no reason to think the RSC has lost its grip on the House GOP Caucus).

I’ve gone through this a number of times over the last two years, but will once again post the basics of the CCB proposal:

1. Cut - We must make discretionary and mandatory spending reductions that would cut the deficit in half next year.
2. Cap - We need statutory, enforceable caps to align federal spending with average revenues at 18% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with automatic spending reductions if the caps are breached.
3. Balance - We must send to the states a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) with strong protections against federal tax increases and a Spending Limitation Amendment (SLA) that aligns spending with average revenues as described above.

And the whole idea of this proposal (and the specific subject of the CCB Pledge) is to make any vote for a debt limit increase strictly contingent on all three planks of the proposal, which means a radical and permanent reduction in federal spending, far beyond anything contemplated in the Ryan Budget.

Last time we went around the bend with a debt limit fight, 12 GOP Senators had already signed the Pledge, and 105 House Republicans signed a letter to the House leadership linking the debt limit increase to implementation of CCB.

Now no one knows how many House (or Senate) Republicans would ultimately refuse to vote for a debt limit increase unless this hallucinatory proposal were adopted, which would never happen unless vast changes in American politics and public opinion occurred. But crazy as it is, this will be the position from which conservative activists in and out of Congress will put pressure on Republican negotiators (or in the case of Boehner, non-negotiators). And if media types don’t understand that, then they can’t understand how high the risk of a debt default actually is, and how little maneuvering room GOP leaders will feel they have, particularly since they are already ruling out revenue measures as part of a “deal,” and generally thought defense spending was far too low even before the sequester was scheduled.

So that’s a deeper reason, other than the risks involved to the economy, that people need to come to grips with Republican irresponsibility as the debt limit grows near. This isn’t a game, and the two sides aren’t even in the same book, much less the same page, going in. And even if Republicans are cynical enough to completely reverse what they are saying right now, they may not have the support in their own ranks to do so. Before other solutions—such as invocation of the “constitutional option” or even printing platinum coins—are completely ruled out, so, too, must any talk of “Cut, Cap and Balance,” which would basically make anything remotely resembling progressive politics unconstitutional. Yes, avoiding Congress on the debt limit would be politically and legally perilous, but so, too, is the alternative of assuming conservatives are bluffing after four straight years of incendiary rhetoric and oaths and threats on the very topic at hand.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ronald on January 04, 2013 3:38 PM:

    Oh, they're not bluffing. They'll keep pushing until their Corporate Masters tell them to shut up and pass the damn debt limit.

    MSM, American Public, Economy, etc be damned.

  • bleh on January 04, 2013 3:40 PM:

    ...an inability to grasp and explain the underlying radicalism of conservative doctrine on federal domestic spending

    I certainly don't agree that they can't "grasp" it -- I really don't think they're that dim or naive -- and I think that the problem is not that they can't "explain" it but rather that they won't.

    Look, newspapers are running out of money, magazines mostly already have, networks and cable are chewing each other up, talk shows are a dime a dozen, and bloggers are not only legion but getting shut out of source material by paywalls. There isn't a medium in the business that isn't desperate for eyeballs.

    Given that, why on Earth would any medium alienate the 27% of crazies and the 18% of their fellow-travelers by saying outright that the Republicans are nuts? That's half their potential audience -- or even more, if they lean Right.

    It's a simple business incentive, and as iron as most of those come. They won't say it because it will cost them eyeballs, and thus advertisers, and thus money, to do so. End of story.

  • Josef K on January 04, 2013 3:46 PM:

    an inability to grasp and explain the underlying radicalism of conservative doctrine on federal domestic spending.

    Its quite rational, really. I mean, who wants to accept that one-half of our legislature is...insane? Who in their right mind willingly believes that a section of our government is prepared to deliberately crash the economy, ruin the livelihoods of millions, all in the name of a discredited ideology?

    Why do you think the American public and media initially treated news about the German's 'final solution' with such skepticism?

  • schtick on January 04, 2013 3:55 PM:

    Why do you expect MSM to explain the real consequences of what the teapubs are doing when you have so called reporters like Chuck Todd saying both sides do it? Or an idiot like Gregory asking the President why he doesn't "talk tough" to seniors about Social Security?

    You have MSM repeating the teapub talking points at every turn and the ditto heads and viewers of Faux buy into all the lies to the point that they even call MSM, with the exception of Faux, liberal left, when they are all wacko right wing propaganda machines.

    MSM is just that, Main Stream Media. It is no longer news when all you get is politics 24/7/365. And slanted politics at that.

  • c u n d gulag on January 04, 2013 4:04 PM:

    I like "The Trillion Dollar Coin" idea.

    It may, or may not, prove to be legal.

    Yes, it's drastic, and the GOP will be up in arms, wailing for Obama's impeachment - but, with a Democratic Senate, that move by the House would prove to be the grandest Kabuki display of all time - even greater than Clinton's BJ.

    And while they scream that what the President is doing is drastic and unconstitutional, and while they drag it through the courts to the SCOTUS, the President and Democrats can point out that it is, indeed a drastic move - but one necessary to prevent the Republican Nihilists and Terrorists in Congress, from completely destroying the full faith and credit of this country by having a power-grab/hissy-fit, OVER PAYING FOR BILLS THEY ALREADY FECKIN' PASSED!!!

    And unltimately, I don't care if the courts think it'll be legal or not.

    Just make it, to make the Conservatives mad!

    And to piss them off even further, slap George W. Bush's arrogant, petulant, smirky, puss on it!!!

    And on the back, put an image of the Twin Towers burning; and the words, "Afghanistan," "Iraq," "Big Pharma Give-away," "Torture," and "Deregulated Wall Street Meltdown."

    The President could wear the model of that coin to the State of the Union Address.

    And then display the coin, front and back, on the White House website.

  • Josef K on January 04, 2013 4:08 PM:

    There's another dimension that doesn't get much attention: the ugly truth that the capital and its environs will to go untouched by the chaos that a default will bring. At least they expect to, which means they're likely in for a rude shock shortly.

  • boatboy_srq on January 04, 2013 4:20 PM:

    A good part of the MSM's treatment of the GOTea comes from the behavior of the spokespeople within the GOTea. To date, the most "honest" proponents of GOTea policy have been the least believable, if not the least in possession of their faculties. Bachmann, Akin, Angle, et al were, whatever their other failings, the ones most able to present the GOTea's perspective and agenda in plain English - and while that doesn't help their public perception it does raise other questions.

    The biggest story the MSM is missing here is not the extremism of the GOTea. The big story is how what increasingly appears to be a thoroughly sociopathic, sanity-challenged platform can be espoused by so many apparently functional legislators. Boehner, Cantor, McConnell and the others present a fairly rational - if hypocritical, greedy, destructive and otherwise disagreeable - face to the public on the party's behalf, but when their rhetoric gets pared down to the basics of the party agenda it sounds more and more like the sort of ravings we're used to hearing from Crazy Eyes and her kin.

    We know from over a decade of painful experience that the GOTea is not prepared to govern in any fashion with a Democrat in the White House, and when they have majorities in both houses and a GOP Prez they govern like a teen who's just found Daddy's gun and credit card. We're also learning - finally - that the agenda they push would (observed in an individual) be grounds for commitment. Yet the clearest proponents of that agenda are simultaneously easily dismissed as the least rational members of the party. it's well past time the MSM addressed that.

  • Mimikatz on January 04, 2013 4:27 PM:

    If I understand the US Government correctly, it is Congress who votes for spending. If Congress doesn't cut spending, it is because it doesn't want to. If the GOP doesn't have the votes, it doesn't have the votes. If Obama had lost, he couldn't have just refused to leave office and barricaded himself in the Oval Office. That's what the GOP is doing, however.

    Greg Sargeant had an interesting piece in which he talked to a hostage negotiator who said that Obama has to be willing to use a trump card, whether the trillion dollar coin or the 14th Amendment. He has to make the GOP crazies understand they aren't in control. Responsible media need to both talk about how crazy the GOP is and give credence to either of these scenarios or some other one, to further isolate the crazies. And of course the business community needs to make it clear they won't fund people who deliberately tank the economy. This will need to be a sustained campaign.

    And of course the public really needs to understand that cutting spending means cutting SS and raising the Medicare age, cutting Medicaid and bringing Grandma home and dealing with social needs children with no help. I think they did get the idea earlier during the campaign, but they need to be reminded over and over. And a stake needs to be driven through the GOP in 2014. So far Cornyn seems willing to do the job along with Paul Ryan, who now says no more Sandy relief until the whole disaster program is "reformed".

  • howard on January 04, 2013 4:40 PM:

    mimikatz is on the right track here: the "debt limit" has no constitutional basis.

    the congress approves spending legislation and it approves revenue legislation, and that's the end of it, constitutionally: if they want to change the status quo, let them do it through legislative action, not through revoting on already passed spending and taxing legislation.

    i personally believe what i guess is called the 14th ammendment option is the way to go: the debt limit is a phony law, obama should announce his willingness to ignore it, and the house crazies can impeach him if they want.

    i want to note that it's not impossible that one of two things happens in that case - either the fed says "we can't take the president's authority on this alone and therefore we can't sell any new bonds," or the market says "hey, this isn't stuff backed by full faith and credit, it's only likely to be paid off" and we see a bump-up in interest rates. the former would almost certainly lead straight to the supreme court; the latter can probably be lived with.

    but the debt ceiling - which is an artifact of special world war ii circumstances - must go.

  • T2 on January 04, 2013 4:53 PM:

    whew....lots of verbiage just to say something that's been written on this blog a million times....the mainstream Media and Cable Media are owned by men/Corporations heavily vested in the Republican Party and Conservative platform. The Crazy of the GOP is not invisible....it's plain as day, and because of that the Media has to work overtime to pretend it is not crazy. And it ain't easy. They bend over backwards to be "balanced". FOX is blatant about it, but the rest are almost as bad at the end of the day. An example....on MSNBC Mitchell today, the creeper read "unemployment rate goes up to 7.8%, while at the same time the on-screen headline read "unemployment stays steady".
    You want to know why the GOP /TP gets away with their crap? It's the Media, baby. On purpose.

  • Mimikatz on January 04, 2013 5:13 PM:

    I think it is Treasury that sells the bonds. Actually, they are rolling over mostly short-term debt as it comes due. Last time the stock market dropped 1800 points (Aug 2011) but IIRC the Treasury had an auction that was pretty well received and interest rates only went up a little. Indicating that buyers thought there would not be a default. Can Treasury just sell bonds to the Fed? Would Bernanke go along?

    Another factor is McConnell's Chinese in-laws. His wife's family was very close to the last Premier, don't know about the current one. But they can't like all the histrionics.

    My prediction is still that the fiscal bluff will be just that and we end with the House crazies becoming more and more isolated, Obama threatening a constitutional option where they just issue more debt, and we get a deal for some spending cuts, some more revenue through tax reform and it is passed by majority of Dems.

  • iyoumeweus on January 04, 2013 5:30 PM:

    This is what political compromise, cooperation and coordination looks like. Yes, we lost about 800B in revenue over 10 years, but revenue is always an on- going effort. I do not understand why in a nation that preaches marriage, couples and families; we reward unmarried, single individuals. I would rather it had been 200K and 400K, but compromise is compromise. But look what we obtained! A tax increase on the very, super, mega and ultra rich and a rise in the Estate Tax both of which can be changed in the future, an extension in emergency unemployment insurance, plus securing America’s Opportunity, Child and Earned Income Tax Credits. Included is an extension of the Production and Investment Tax Credit for the renewable energy industry and the Energy Star Tax Credit for consumers purchasing major appliances; as well as, a Doc’s and milk fix and several corp. ‘goodies’ which both parties love and lobbyist protect. Remember there is no such thing as permanent but the safety net was not further reduced and Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security left unchanged. Thinking we could get a better deal from the next Congress still controlled by rabid Tearepublgop is wishing for horses.
    A. Eliminate all corporation taxes on profits which are paid out to shareholders but tax dividends as income
    B. Tax all corporate advertisement at a rate of 50% ie.: for every $1 spent on advertising $.50 goes to government
    C. Tax all corporate lobbying and campaign contributions at 100% ($1 for $1)
    D. Tax all bonuses over $10,000 at a rate of 45%
    E. Tax all penalties, fines and punitive forfeiture at 25%
    F. Tax all profit not paid out as a dividend to shareholders at a rate of 15%
    G. All legitimate business expensive can be declared as a deduction except those in items b –e.
    H. Impose a special tax on the profits of all corporations and businesses which out- source jobs, build manufacturing, research and development facilities abroad and keep all or some financial accounts in foreign nations.
    I. The following loopholds shall be closed: 1) “active financing” tax deferral for financial firms [this exception for foreign source income allows multinational financial firms to avoid tax on their worldwide income by allowing these firms to establish ‘captive’ foreign financing subsidiaries], 2) dividend deduction on foreign source income earnings from U. S. controlled foreign subsidiary corporations, incorporated overseas [enables firms to avoid repatriating foreign earnings] and 3) the debt tax shield [deductibility of corp. debt interest payments for foreign firms].
    • Cut farm subsidies by 30%.
    • Cut military budget by following the recommendations of the Sustainable Defense Task Force report which targeted cuts in: strategic capabilities, conventional forces, operational expenses, procurement strategies and eliminating unnecessary weapons systems. There is broad agreement that savings can be had without sacrificing national security. Estimated to be $100 B/yr
    • Eliminate all subsidies for fossil fuels including production credits and charge all petroleum companies full price for all well inspections.
    • Eliminate all subsidies on corn ethanol.
    • Reduce and eliminate the outsourcing of jobs to private firms which traditionally have been done by the Federal government or the military.
    • Increase fees on all Federal lands used for: lumbering, grazing, mining and other for profit activities. In some cases a percentage of the profit may be negotiated to protect the people’s interests.
    The ILB would be funded at $300B to start and added to in increments of $50B to $100B per year until fully funded at $1T. Any elected unit of government may barrow from

  • Yellowdog on January 05, 2013 3:38 AM:

    'This isn't a game.' Repeat that often, Ed. Maybe one day the MSM will listen and quit covering politics as a benign game or a form of theatre. Yes, often 'Hollywood for ugly people' and 'junior high with adults' are the perfect descriptors for what goes on in Washington, but then you realize, what happens in the show actually matters. This isn't a most popular eighth grader vote. I guess any media type who puts things in that perspective probably does not get a call back from Senator Bigdeal, but, come on, MSM. Do your job.

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  • Crissa on January 06, 2013 3:09 AM:

    You know something the family household doesn't have?

    A cap on spending.

    At no point can I limit my emergency spending to 18% of income. If I incur a debt, it's not like I can push off being run over by a car or other medical disaster. I can't limit my buying of a house or a car to only what I can spend each month - there's down payments and repairs and the debt from buying a house is far more than even my annual household income.

    This is more stupidity from people who don't want to do math.

  • James M on January 06, 2013 6:50 AM:

    Great comment Crissa. The whole Republican shtick is based on the fact that most people do not make a distinction between microeconomics (the economics of a household or a firm) and macroeconomics. This allows GOP pols to spin all manner of homespun homilies which sound great but would be an economic disaster if ever enacted.