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July 10, 2011 11:00 AM ‘A gamble where you bet your country’s good name’

By Steve Benen

I can’t help but think the vast majority of the public just doesn’t fully appreciate what’s transpiring here.

We’re dealing, after all, with fairly obscure legal mechanisms. Most Americans don’t know what the federal debt ceiling is, and in fairness, they’ve never had to. It’s a law that was approved more than eight decades ago, and hasn’t been particularly controversial or even relevant since. Policymakers have always realized they have an obligation — legal, economic, moral, and otherwise — to do the right thing.

The United States is like the Lannisters: we always pay our debts. And in the case of the debt ceiling, we’re talking about money we’ve already spent — this is the equivalent of getting a credit card bill for charges we’ve already made. The entirety of the Republican Party — in the House, in the Senate, among its presidential candidates — has said it might pay the bill, but only if Democrats agree to take trillions of dollars out of a fragile economy.

And if Democrats don’t do enough to make Republicans happy, GOP officials will simply refuse to do their duty. They know the consequences would be severe for the nation and the world. They apparently don’t care.

Americans almost certainly can’t appreciate the extent to which they’ve made a tragic mistake. Voters perceived the Republican Party has a conservative governing party, capable of responsible center-right governance, and rewarded the GOP handsomely in 2010. What voters probably didn’t understand are the similarities between today’s Republican Party and a not-terribly-bright organized-crime family, run entirely by petulant children.

The Economist, a conservative publication, had a fascinating editorial this week, explaining that Republicans are creating a crisis, on purpose, for no reason. The United States has a manageable debt, low interest rates, low inflation, and the ability to borrow on the cheap. But because right-wing extremists are chiseling away at our political system, we’re quickly approaching a point of no return.

The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.

This newspaper has a strong dislike of big government; we have long argued that the main way to right America’s finances is through spending cuts. But you cannot get there without any tax rises. In Britain, for instance, the coalition government aims to tame its deficit with a 3:1 ratio of cuts to hikes. America’s tax take is at its lowest level for decades: even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to do so.

And the closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look…. Both parties have in recent months been guilty of fiscal recklessness. Right now, though, the blame falls clearly on the Republicans.

The Economist added that this is “a gamble where you bet your country’s good name.”

I suspect there are many saying, “We get it; they’re reckless.” But that’s not enough — no one given this much power is supposed to be this reckless. Republicans gained power because voters were frustrated with high unemployment, and yet GOP leaders are threatening to deliberately create a crisis that would make unemployment much worse. And the breaking point is very soon.

All of this could go away in a heartbeat. Republicans could do, today, exactly what they did repeatedly during the Bush years: simply vote to raise the debt ceiling in a clean bill and move on. The entire process could take literally a few minutes.

But GOP officials don’t want to. They want to play a game in which the entire world could lose.

How is this not the biggest political scandal in modern American history? How is it that those who claim the high ground on patriotism could put our financial well being on the line, on purpose, when they don’t have to?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • JW on July 10, 2011 11:13 AM:

    Benen, dude, you're so close. Spit it out: "The GOP is the Party of Rule or Ruin".

  • c u n d gulag on July 10, 2011 11:21 AM:

    "How is this not the biggest political scandal in modern American history?"

    Start with Luntz and Drudge, throw in Rush, Sean, Glenn, and other radio yappers, FOX News, The WSJ and WaPo and other Op-ed pages, then add in the final layer - a lazy, unanalytical, compliant, and/or complicit MSM.

    Oh, and I almost forgot - a stupid/ignorant and lazy population of morons, most of whom are suckers and rubes who vote against their best interests on a regulare basis.

  • golack on July 10, 2011 11:22 AM:

    recall all republicans
    recall all republicans
    recall all republicans

  • Kathryn on July 10, 2011 11:28 AM:

    It's come to this because the main stream media has fallen down the rabbit hole with Cantor and the Tea Party nihilists and does not report these indisputable facts as indisputable. I just had to disconnect Meet The Press as David Gregory was going at it with Tim Geither, one negative followup after another (either that or sledge hammer to my perfectly good property) which he resists doing nearly 100% when he has a treasonous Republican in his chummy chair. Many bloggers over the past few weeks have said business interests won't allow this Armageddon to happen which makes sense but I no longer find much comfort in that, they (business leaders) seem to be AWOL. Do they too hate Obama enough to destroy our economy once again? Probably shielding their fortunes this very minute in preparation for departures to Swiss villas.

  • ROB on July 10, 2011 11:32 AM:

    YOU MEANT TO SAY "NOT TERRIBLY BRIGHT" NO?

  • Chris on July 10, 2011 11:32 AM:

    It doesn't help that rather than going on offense, President Obama has decided to play defense. The best case scenario is that he will agree to $5 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue--while millions are out of work. "Structural" unemployment, he says.

    I'm becoming convinced that being liked by his political opponents is more important to Obama than leading and winning the debate.

    Note that I'm a person who contributed to and voted for Obama throughout the primaries. Regardless of the outcome, his handling of this issue has cost him my support. I'll show up and vote for him next year, but I can't find it in my heart to do any more than that. I'm done.

  • Rich on July 10, 2011 11:46 AM:

    They will do anything and say anything to get tax cuts fro the rich and to screw the rest of us. It really just boils down to that. This is the "faith based" economic agenda put into place by Rove, the Randians, and Gingrich. The Economist usually makes fun of the Christian Right, while supporting the conomic right. That they seem to get the insanity of this suggests that it really has gone way too far.

  • beowulf on July 10, 2011 11:46 AM:

    Coinage Act already, geez. The Secretary of the Treasury has unlimited seigniorage authority.
    "(h) The coins issued under this title shall be legal tender� (k) The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary�s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.�
    http://pragcap.com/lets-end-this-debt-ceiling-debate-with-a-1-oz-1t-coin

  • kevo on July 10, 2011 11:49 AM:

    It's a shame our nation's world economic standing is being threatened by unhealthy politics!

    Since Boehner can't deliver a clean debt ceiling bill, I blame him!

    Since the dismantling of civic government seems to be the intent of our current Republican brand, I blame it!

    Since most Americans can't find themselves out of a wet paper bag when it comes to politics and their interests, I blame them and their information sources!

    I wonder just who will blame whom when our third-world status becomes the event horizon in the next few months? -Kevo

  • Danp on July 10, 2011 11:50 AM:

    Most Americans dont know what the federal debt ceiling is

    or what party is in charge.

  • Ted Frier on July 10, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Howard Kurtz is worth reading if only as a barometer for all that is wrong with Beltway thinking and reporting. And in today's Daily Beast Kurtz is up to his old tricks: he is once again blaming Democrats and Republicans for threatening the nation's economic future by, in Kurtz's words, letting partisanship and "nasty rhetoric" get in the way of an agreement that would pull us back from the abyss.

    But the entire premise of Kurtz's nonsense is that it was entirely legitimate for Republicans to do what no other party in no other time had ever done before, and that was to hold the nation hostage by refusing to raise the debt limit unless it could win concessions from Democrats.

    To Kurtz's way of thinking, Republicans should be rewarded for their blackmail and shame on Democrats if they let "partisanship" get in the way of caving in to Republican demands so that the nation can save its credit rating by paying for all the bills Republicans racked up when they were in charge -- tax cuts for the rich, two unfunded wars, an unpaid prescription drug benefit -- all of which added up to a doubling of the national debt to $10 trillion in just eight years.

    And Kurtz wants to blame Democrats for not sacrificing the New Deal to help uncompromising Republicans pay for this? Shows how far the Beltway media will go to prostitute their intellectual integrity to maintain access to the right wing Powers that be.

  • Fang on July 10, 2011 11:51 AM:

    The Republican party is NOT about governing. Most republicans in office seem to have become opportunists, sellouts,and grifters. They go where the money is, follow whoever stuffs their pockets, and are ready to do any publicity stunt.

    They do not govern. They don't even lead. People handed the reigns to them because of frustration, ignorance, and people playing to their greed, racism, and anger.

    The disadvantage of course is they have the power. If there's an advantage its that we can count on their insanity we can try and lead them off a cliff. The problem is they may take us with them.

    It is my sincere hope Americans don't have to have a debt ceiling breach to learn how dangerous they are. It's my hope that the financial powers stuffing their pockets realize they're losing the game. It's still not something I'm sure of.

  • You Don't Say on July 10, 2011 11:59 AM:

    Well said, Steve.

  • SW on July 10, 2011 12:10 PM:

    They may look insane. They are class warriors. It is all about a desperate scorched earth campaign to preserve the Bush tax cuts.

    Many folks look at the fact that the last ten years have seen an unprecedented concentration of wealth into the hands of the top 0.1% of the population and regret it. Everyone except that 0.1% and those who engineered the shift.

    The Bush tax cuts were a major contributor to the shift in where the national income goes. From labor to capital. From the middle class to the rich. From the struggling to the comfortable.

    Pure and simple arithmetic tells us that current public spending levels are unsustainable at Bush era tax levels. However, this public spending is currently essential to the well being of the nation. Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that what the economy needs at this moment is more public spending not less.

    Therefore, the wealthy ruling class has engaged in an all out assault on the population using every tool at their disposal including a compliant and bought and paid for media to create the impression that the most important thing that needs to be done at this juncture is to reduce government spending. Since the recent wave of media consolidation means that nearly all of the news is controlled by a very small group of multi-national media corporations the slant on economic policy reporting is overwhelmingly towards the corporate view.

    We often hear about the Horatio Alger stories, the self made men of wealth, those who have gotten rich by their own labor, hard work inventiveness etc. But if you look at the names of those who constitute the truly great wealth the bulk of the 0.1% who have essentially gained controlling interested in UScorp, you will find that it is dominated by inherited wealth.

    The problem with inherited wealth is that it tends to get stupid. In-bred, fat and stupid. It is its own sort of backwoods. It's own isolation of arrogance and snobbery that lets it fall prey to the standard genetic predisposition to degeneration when challenges cease to exist. These people are by and large idiots.
    Yet they are idiots who politicians have to give the utmost deferrence to.

    When Paul Krugman asks in wonder just who is it who is terrified of the bond vigilantees? well this is who it is. These are the idiots who are terrified of the bond vigilantees. They are too stupid to understand real economics. Yet they are terrifyingly powerful because of their immense wealth. And politicians are forced to cater to their fears because they now own the controlling shares in USA corp. In-bred idiots who are so arrogant and sure of their world view that they won't even take the time to educate themselves about basic economics. And are in the process even doing damage to themselves. Pretty much like the yeast in alcohol.

  • walt on July 10, 2011 12:11 PM:

    Like just about everyone here, I think Republicans are beyond the pale of ordinary decency. The problem we face as a nation is now very simple: can we tell the truth? If not, we are finished. There are red lights flashing and sirens screaming. The last thing we need is civility. We need raw, unflinching, righteous anger. Anything less is a failure of nerve. If the president doesn't lead here, we should take to the streets.

  • Roddy McCorley on July 10, 2011 12:11 PM:

    How is this not the biggest political scandal in modern American history?

    Here's a better question: How is this not TREASON?

    To deliberately, consciously, relentlessly undermine the economic health and stability of the entire country for the purposes of furthering a purely partisan ideology? I'd call that treason.

  • bakho on July 10, 2011 12:12 PM:

    Dude, the voters do not reward politicians unless the economy is good. Voters in 2010 were punishing the Dems for not doing enough to fix unemployment. Voters were not voting FOR Republicans or Republican policy. Voters in 2012 will punish Obama for failing to fix unemployment. Voters keep Congressmen in office if things are OK. I would not be surprised to see both Obama lose and the GOP lose the House and Dems lose the Senate as many bums are thrown out.

  • Rick Taylor on July 10, 2011 12:12 PM:

    This is all true, but the Democratic party hasn't exactly made it clear. When the President is upping the ante, proposing a 4 trillion deal beyond the GOP's 2 trillion, how are people going to come to the conclusion that what's happening is extortion?

  • zandru on July 10, 2011 12:19 PM:

    "a stupid/ignorant and lazy population of morons"

    Well, Mr. Gulag, I don't think that most Americans as much time on their hands as you do to cruise all the political blogs, read the foreign press, etc. Most folks get their "news" - such as it is - from the corporate media. As you might realize, there's less and less actual news being produced: at best, stenography to the rich & powerful, with mindless fluff and murders thrown in to fill out the 20-minute half hour. So, probably not surprisingly, fewer and fewer people are bothering to tune in to the "news" anymore. The ratings show it.

    I can't imagine how you judge that someone working two or more jobs is "lazy." The "stupid/ignorant" and "morons" part is just abuse.

    You've got some good writing ability and do good analysis - how about helping to deal with the news vacuum? Check out Josh Marshall, Markos Moulitsos, etc. See how they did it. Perhaps there are similar news bloggers in your area - we've even got a couple in New Mexico, so I imagine inhabited parts of the country are even better served.

    People aren't "ignorant" because they want to be - it's because it's so much work to be otherwise, and they have survival issues to deal with first.

    "any serepr" will do - just serepr something.

  • zandru on July 10, 2011 12:24 PM:

    Great analysis, SW!

  • sjw on July 10, 2011 12:27 PM:

    It is worth noting here that the surfeit of crazies in the House is partly the consequence of Obama's message weakness during his first two years in office. Instead of pushing back against Republican nonsense, he was pretty much silent. He also installed and kept in place the completely ineffectual Tim Kaine as Democratic party leader, who presided over the Democrats' singularly poor showing in 2010.

  • Shamwow on July 10, 2011 12:32 PM:

    I don't expect this comment to make it throught the state censors but if it does:
    I found not one truth in one word written.
    Statist dribble.

  • Some Other Steve on July 10, 2011 12:38 PM:

    I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to say let them bring the whole thing down around our ears.

    Yes, there will be incredible pain and hardship. People will probably die. Others will probably suffer immense privation. I'll probably suffer one or the other.

    But, crap... let it rain. Let the entire corrupt system go down the tubes. Let there be riots in the streets, let there be burning tires and barricades. Let there be wreck and ruin.

    Just get it over with.

    Really.

    Seriously.

    Just get it over with.

    Wyatt Cenac said it best on The Daily Show: bring it on. . . we've got guns, too.

    Maybe the survivors will learn something from the whole sordid, painful, disastrous experience and build something halfway decent out of the rubble.

    It's not like it's not happened before.

  • walt on July 10, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Shamwow, I suspect truth for you is whatever has a big R behind it. This is why we're in this mess. Your party is a religion now. It doesn't allow dissent, compromise, or ambiguity. You probably think you're a conservative, but you're not. You're a True Believer who boils away every essential element of reality in order to support your primary conviction - tribal solidarity.

  • mark on July 10, 2011 1:00 PM:

    in what way does the most disastrous outcome hurt the most powerful players?

    answer that question and you'll see why it's not worth playing a rigged game.

  • Danp on July 10, 2011 1:01 PM:

    I found not one truth in one word written.

    Shamwow, the depth of your analysis proves much of what has been written. Maybe you've been absorbing too much dirty glop somewhere.

  • bdop4 on July 10, 2011 1:07 PM:

    Shamwow,

    Do you want to fix the economy? If so, how do conservative policies achieve that end? Please show your homework, and don't rely on "the economy needs to get on a sound footing so businesses will start hiring again," because the economy WON't get better until businesses start hiring again.

    Show the chain of causation from spending cuts to new jobs. I dare you.

    P.S. We don't censor morons because we're not afraid of them.

  • Joe Friday on July 10, 2011 1:12 PM:

    "Voters perceived the Republican Party has a conservative governing party, capable of responsible center-right governance, and rewarded the GOP handsomely in 2010."

    Actually, the outcome of the 2010 Midterm elections was as a result of a chunk of the Democratic base staying home, not because there was some change in the electorate in regards to their perception of the Republican party.

    Apparently the White House has missed the point that the Republican base will be out again in 2012, but whether the Democratic base stays home again is what they need to be concentrating upon.

  • Stephen LaBonne on July 10, 2011 1:34 PM:

    The Economist's orthodoxy is only one degree less insane and economically illiterate than teabaggerism. (Cameron's budget is a disaster which is shrinking the UK economy.) Screw them. I don't what to hear what they "think".

  • Josef K on July 10, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Shamwow's laughable commentary aside (and you automatically dismiss anyone who uses the term "statist"), the comment does speak to probably the biggest impediment to resolving this madness: the willingness of the GOP and its supporters to simply reject the inarguable facts before them.

    Boehner understands what's at stake. Likely McConnell and Cantor do as well. But to a one, they and their caucus are pushing this issue on a disasterous course. They and theirs have gone before the public and stated this is no great concern, that nothing worrying will happen after August 2nd, that the federal government shouldn't be allowed to take in any more money, etc..

    The reality is vastly different, and will likely lead to a disaster unlike any in our nation's experience. I'm left to wonder how these worthies will explain things going completely off the rails after August 2nd. No doubt they'll blame the President and Democrats, but will anyone be buying that line, especially after they've made such public pronouncements that they won't compromise to stop this?

    The next 20-odd days will be very interesting to watch.

  • alki on July 10, 2011 1:54 PM:

    I can�t help but think the vast majority of the public just doesn�t fully appreciate what�s transpiring here.

    Amen. I think you are very right.

  • Kathie on July 10, 2011 1:58 PM:

    Steve puts my amateurness to shame, but I know so many ignorant people who just don't get it. So I've written a Google Doc that I hope can enlighten the noobs on this bullshit tax cut issue. Please help me edit it and https://docs.google.com/document/d/10uH2FwVVn-EC6lqyzENYjk_YnJ2kdVI78K-JdbzraRM/edit?hl=en_US Thanks (this isn't spam, I am serious)!

  • John B. on July 10, 2011 2:07 PM:

    SB writes: "What voters probably didnt understand are the similarities between todays Republican Party and a not-terribly-bright organized-crime family, run entirely by petulant children."

    True, but how does what some call the only "adult" in the room known as Washington D.C. react? He offers them sweet compromise after sweet compromises -- thoroughly eroding his own position and thus teaching the petulant children that they can always get more sugary treats if they act more and more petulantly.

  • GreenDreams on July 10, 2011 2:14 PM:

    I don't know to what extent this is possible. What if Obama said?

    "Some states, and some Congressional districts, through their representatives, have made clear they want less government spending. We will work toward meeting their spending goals by terminating spending in those states and districts that say spending is excessive. Military bases, government contracts and grants, and government purchasing from those states and districts will be reduced or terminated, as required, to meet the spending goals of these states and districts.

    Spending will increase to those states and districts that believe government spending is important to the nation's and their state's health."

  • ifthethunderdontgetya on July 10, 2011 2:45 PM:

    And if Democrats dont do enough to make Republicans happy, GOP officials will simply refuse to do their duty. They know the consequences would be severe for the nation and the world. They apparently dont care.

    The GOP knows that the Democrats will probably cave in as usual, and the corporate media will provide the GOP with support irregardless of the facts or the consequences.

    And this is how we've gotten to where we are, at this point in history.
    ~

  • James E. Powell on July 10, 2011 2:45 PM:

    I can�t help but think the vast majority of the public just doesn�t fully appreciate what�s transpiring here.

    Can you think of a single public policy debate from the last twenty years or so where this was not the case?

    The vast majority of the public is stubbornly and willfully ignorant.

  • Chris on July 10, 2011 2:45 PM:

    The NYTimes reports: "Mr. McConnell said on Sunday that 'nobody is talking about not raising the debt ceiling. I haven’t heard that discussed by anybody.'

    Mr. McConnell said that he had a 'contingency plan' for raising the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline, when the Treasury Department has said the government would begin defaulting on some debt. He said he would reveal his plan later this week if negotiations with the White House fail."

    Sounds to me like the GOP is bluffing.

  • Schtick on July 10, 2011 2:46 PM:

    People are relating the government to running a household and cutting things in one place to pay for another. Not quite like that in government, but they can't understand that and get mad if you try to tell them they don't really understand. They think you are implying they are stupid and will stop listening to you.
    The best example I have made that kinda gets the point across is that you have monthly bills, heat, lights, phone, cable, etc., and past due bills which are credit cards.
    Then you have luxuries you really don't need, cigarettes, booze, drugs and junk food, like the subsidies to oil, big business and Bachman. If you stop the spending on stuff that is bad for you, you won't have to cut down on lights, heat, food and will even get to keep your phone, cable and internet. I actually got through to a couple people like that.

    crapcha....anchdi inflicted....we are?

  • Chris on July 10, 2011 2:47 PM:

    Here's the link the NYTimes article I referenced above: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/us/politics/11debt.html?_r=1&hp

  • ameshall on July 10, 2011 3:02 PM:

    The public really doesn't understand what's going on here, and the Democrats do not understand just how deep Republican talking points have penetrated Americans' thinking. The GOP has convinced the public that government spending is out of control, that Democrats are the big spenders, that most of the spending is on domestic programs that serve the lazy and undeserving, that the budget can be balanced by cutting spending on these social programs, and that raising the debt ceiling allows Congress to spend more in the future. If you accept these "facts" as true, the GOP's stand doesn't seem all that unreasonable. It would help if the Democrats set the record straight, particularly with respect to the retrospective nature of the debt ceiling, but I won't hold my breath. Also, I do wish everyone would stop saying "tax hikes" or "tax increases" when referring to the Democrats' demands in these negotiations. It should be made clear that Democrats are trying to end tax breaks and loopholes that allow mega-corporations and billionaires to avoid paying their fair share.

  • TR on July 10, 2011 3:14 PM:

    Here's a better question: How is this not TREASON?

    Yep. Bill Maher asked this on Friday night's show. Specifically, he asked the question to Ann Coulter, who wrote a book called "Treason" which said liberals were traitors because they called out Joe McCarthy's bullshit. She never has much to say, but she pretty much sputtered at that, because there was no good answer.

    Glad he asked it at least. Wish more people in the media would, too.

  • MBunge on July 10, 2011 3:21 PM:

    "It doesn't help that rather than going on offense, President Obama has decided to play defense."


    I know a certain segment of the left is, for various reasons, consumed with the idea that they're all smarter and more politically capable than Barack Obama, but the following can't bet stated enough.

    There is neither any evidence nor any reason to think that President Obama "going on offense", "getting tough", "taking it to the GOP" or "any other phrase meaning a more aggressive and confrontational tone" would have been any more effective or productive than what he's done. Zero. Zip. Nada. None.

    Mike

  • Brian R. on July 10, 2011 3:30 PM:

    What Mike said.

    On the politics, Obama has played this perfectly -- hell, the Economist's verdict is all you need to see that.

  • troglodyte on July 10, 2011 3:46 PM:

    I agree with Mike and Brian. This is not a game in which the Dems hold the cards. You really cant convince the public with slogans right now, the right-wing memes are too ingrained. However, when faced with the actual travesty that was Paul Ryan's budget, a lot of people started to see the light. Notice that the Repubs are not offering Ryan's plan right now. The are not really offering any plan.

    The next chess move is if Obama can engineer a situation where all the people who hurt from the government crash are wealthy people and corporations who have the Repubs in Congress on speed dial. If retirees get shafted, Repubs will do some media spin and wait for them to blame Obama. If Haliburton calls Boehner and tells him to make a deal, it will be done by sundown. Obama just has to have the bill ready.

    Obama can give a speech in which he tells the media that the large government contractors, and their shareholders, have the wealth to absorb the temporary interruption in milk from the federal nipple. And that he expects them to do their patriotic duty to maintain essential services until the Repubs agree to a deal.

  • yellowdog on July 10, 2011 3:47 PM:

    In addition to the perilous substantive questions the White House has to wrestle with, it has at least two very big inside-game matters to think about. Question marks attached to any deal include:

    1 - The possibility that McConnell and Kyl are negotiating in bad faith - This is their recent history. (I won't narrate the events of the New Start Treaty again. Suffice it to say, it was like this debt limit episode, except with nuclear weapons.) They may not have any intention of a making a real agreement. (What has their strategy been throughout Obama's term? Deal or obstruct? It's been about 15-85% obstruct. Included in the 85% are the many times they said they would deal, as on New Start, but didn't really mean it.)

    2 - Boehner can't deliver the votes - As Benen, Maddow, and others have pointed out recently, Boehner is a weak and unproven speaker. He does not have a great history of getting the antique machinery of the House to putter to life on his order. To complicate matters, Cantor wants his job. Cantor will ride over Boehner like a 77 Mercury if he gets the chance. Is this Cantor's chance? The White House has to question how many votes Boehner can really pull from his party in the House. Does Boehner even really know how many he has? (Historically, that's a question strong speakers, of both parties, have always known the answer to.) If Cantor judges this as his moment to wrest the House away from Boehner, he may be working at cross purposes with the speaker and may in fact want to blow the deal.

    Washington suffers from a dangerous kind of power-mad myopia even in the best of days. Let us just hope that there are enough wise men and wise women in the place to steer us away from cataclysm. Sometimes, it is the moments of stress that bring forth the finest qualities of leadership in a person. And, sometimes, not so much...

  • DelCapslock on July 10, 2011 3:55 PM:

    ...deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.

    And yet another reminder that this debate is not about deficit reduction. The issue is really aboutwhat constitutes legitimate expenditures of revenue, but as long as the Republicans can keep framing it dishonestly as being about the deficit, they can still achieve their goals, which is to keep America's wealth concentrated in the hands of the Republican elite.

  • Joe Friday on July 10, 2011 4:05 PM:

    Chris,

    Mr. McConnell said that he had a 'contingency plan' for raising the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline, when the Treasury Department has said the government would begin defaulting on some debt. He said he would reveal his plan later this week if negotiations with the White House fail.

    The Republicans will likely offer up legislation to increase the debt-ceiling, but with MASSIVE spending cuts which will not be enacted by the Senate. They will then claim they TRIED to raise the debt-ceiling, but the Senate Democrats blocked the enactment of the legislation, therefore it is all the Democrats fault.

    Kinda like a perp claiming he HAD to stab his victim because he refused to hand over his wallet. It's all the victim's fault, of course.

  • c u n d gulag on July 10, 2011 4:08 PM:

    zandru,
    I appreciate what you write, too.

    And if you've been reading my comments for a while, you should know that I regularly BLAST the MSM, and hold them largely accountable for the ignorance in this country.

    And when I wasn't unemployed as I am now, and have nothing else to keep me sane except reading about the political insanity in this country(?), I also worked long hours - in management. And I somehow made time to analyze the news, and to get involved in liberal/progressive causes. But then, I am single without any kids, so that makes it a hell of a lot easier.

    I don't know why i didn't take the time in my comment to point the finger of blame where it really belongs - on a complicit and compliant media. And you're right, I should have.

    Interestingly, to me, I can't tell you how many time I've heard from people "Well, how could they say that if it wasn't true?"
    As if FOX or Rush wouldn't lie to you because there were responsible editors out there, or regulations preventing it. Too many people have some sort of memory of the 'Equal Time Rule,' and think the the reason the Liberals don't respond is because the accusations are true, rather than that the MSM in gamed against us, and 'we have no mouth, but we must scream.'

    Thanks, though, for the nice things you did say about me. :-)

  • pea on July 10, 2011 4:12 PM:

    And the GOP is just waiting to impeach Obama if the exec branch tries to do an end-run around Congress to keep us from crashing and burning financially. What a colossal waste of resources to have to deal with these extortionists when we should be putting every bit of it into solving our many serious problems.

  • JW on July 10, 2011 4:15 PM:

    M Bunge (upthread) contends: "..There is neither any evidence nor any reason to think that President Obama "going on offense", "getting tough", "taking it to the GOP" or "any other phrase meaning a more aggressive and confrontational tone" would have been any more effective or productive than what he's done. Zero. Zip. Nada. None".

    I contend Bunge is mistaken. If Obama possessed even half the fighting spirit of FDR, the GOP would not have re-taken the House in 2010, and this country would be a better place today.

    Imagine if Obama had it in him to throw down this caliber gauntlet:


    "For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up. We had to struggle with the old enemies of peacebusiness and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for meand I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master".

  • Ted Frier on July 10, 2011 4:17 PM:

    Shamwow, I noticed that in your false accusation against the nice people who run this site that your conservative objection would be disallowed in the very same way Rush Limbaugh hits the mute button on callers who challenge his falsehoods, that you offered not a shred of evidence or argument for your belief that Steve's post was untrue, other than the aforementioned ad hominem attack that we don't allow dissent here at the Political Animal.

    My guess is that you thought evidence or argument was entirely unnecessary since the only thing that counts, from your point of view, is conformity with the right wing party line. And in that sense I guess you are probably correct: nothing here is "True" as I suspect you define truth, because it does not conform to a belief system based entirely on a faith, religion or ideology which exists in an entirely different conceptual and epistemological universe from those based on such quaint ideas as proof or fact.

    You are also probably one of those conservatives who believes the Fairness Doctrine is the thin wedge of tyranny because it prevents right wing demagogues from spreading their fabrications and falsehoods totally without challenge or rebuttal, or that it attacks free speech by creating more of it.

    But we get it: right wing conservatism aspires to a homogeneous community built around obedience and conformity, and so a law that creates a genuine marketplace of ideas where right wing notions are forced to confront opposing ideas must be seen as both frightening and undermining of the rigidly doctrinaire society you hope to build.

  • Josef K on July 10, 2011 4:21 PM:

    From Chris at 2:45pm:

    Mr. McConnell said that he had a 'contingency plan' for raising the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline, when the Treasury Department has said the government would begin defaulting on some debt. He said he would reveal his plan later this week if negotiations with the White House fail."

    Sounds to me like the GOP is bluffing.

    I really wish I could believe that this is genuine, and that McConnell has a plan in place. But, given who we're talking about, Chris is likely right and this is just another bluff.

    Which means McConnell has no back-up plan.

    Which means the Republican caucus in the Senate isn't taking this even remotely seriously.

    Which means, may the gods protect us, we're heading into default as I have zero faith in Boehner and Cantor being able to deliver the votes to get whatever is agreed to (if anything gets agreed to) through the House.

    Exactly how did we screw up so badly as a country that its come to this?

  • zeitgeist on July 10, 2011 4:22 PM:

    On the politics, Obama has played this perfectly -- hell, the Economist's verdict is all you need to see that.

    How many American voters read The Economist? Do you think it even reaches 1%?

    Its true that with the cards that are in view right now, and assuming no deal is actually reached, there is a plausible read of the table that results in the Democrats coming out ahead politically on this showdown.

    But for it to come out that way, you have to make three assumptions, all of which seem specious to me: (1) that the Dems can craft a better massage about what just happened than the Republicans can; (2) that the Dems can actually find a way to get that message to the general public in a relatively untrammelled, undistorted way; and (3) that the general public listens, understands, and cares about the message. It doesn't matter if Obama gets the politics pitch-perfect if it is the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around the hear.

    Thought experiment: given everything you've witnessed in politics post-Watergate, if you were accused of a capital offense and could hire to fight for your life (that is, it isn't just theoretical or political - you have real stakes in the game) the cumulative Democratic Advocacy Team over that time period or the Republican Advocacy Team over that time period, who would you choose? Given their win-loss record, would anyone rationally choose the Democrats?

    The Democrats couldn't keep Carter from being branded the President of Malaise, had no answer to Morning in America except Mondale's promise to raise taxes, let Dukakis get Willie Horton'd, let Gingrich take over in the middle of Clinton's term, couldn't put the election out of Supreme Court reach in 2000 against a much weaker candidate and coming off of 8 years of peace and prosperity, let Kerry get Swiftboated (and for chrissake, Kerry couldn't introduce himself in less than 30 seconds, much less advocate concisely for an issue in an ad), and let one of the biggest landslides in history turn to an underwater President in less than 2 years.

    What makes you think they are ready to spin the biggest economic disaster since the 1930s?


  • marketeer on July 10, 2011 4:23 PM:

    only if Democrats agree to take trillions of dollars out of a fragile economy.

    That's an ignorant inversion.

  • Joe Friday on July 10, 2011 4:38 PM:

    Here in one sentence is the problem for the White House, as stated by 'White House Chief of Staff' Bill Daley during his appearance on the ABC News program 'THIS WEEK':

    "For this President, he will be once again be stating his strong belief, that in order to bring fiscal soundness to this country, there must be a balanced approach"

    A) WHY must there be a "balanced approach" when there was NOT a 'balanced' cause for the federal deficits and debt ? The federal deficits and debt were OVERWHELMINGLY caused by the numerous rounds of tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate enacted by Chimpy Bush and the previous Republican Congressional Majority.

    B) Then they make things worse by entering into negotiations with the Republicans by stating there must be a "balanced approach", which inevitably means they will have to negotiate Rightward.

    Are we absolutely SURE that Obama & Daley are really from Chicago ?

    Jim Malone is spinning in his grave.

    ~

    (GET THIS ! Captcha actually presented me with a score of musical notes ! WTF ?)

  • PTate in MN on July 10, 2011 4:51 PM:

    "How is this not the biggest political scandal in modern American history?"

    Bigger than lying to Americans in order to invade Iraq? Bigger than politicizing the judiciary, state department, military, in order to consolidate conservative control of government? Etc, etc.

    Those of us who pay attention are exhausted by the political scandals associated with conservative movement. "Biggest" is a hard standard to define. What makes the threat of defaulting on US debt big is not just that it threatens the worldwide economy and the credibility of the the US government, but that the Republicans have made it clear that they don't give a s*** for the well-being of the nation.

    Democracy is built on the claim that the the legitimacy of government derives from the consent of the governed. What is clear right now is that the conservative minority (what is it, 35-40% at most?) refuse to accept as legitimate the current government of the US, at the national level and at the state level. That is a huge constitutional crisis, but it won't be acknowledged as such because, jeez, the conspirators are supported by the propaganda-driven media and 35-40% of the population are just idiots enough to think its a good thing. They fancy that bringing down the current government makes them some kind of heroes.

  • Josef K on July 10, 2011 5:06 PM:

    I recall during the 2008 election a bit of stink was raised about then-Senator Obama's preference for playing poker, whereas his opponent preferred craps. I get the sense that's how he's been approaching these negotiations (even if only subconsciously).

    Here's hoping his hand is a decent one.

  • Brian R. on July 10, 2011 6:30 PM:

    How many American voters read The Economist? Do you think it even reaches 1%?

    From the Economist's website: "Today circulation is over 1.4m, more than four-fifths of it outside Britain. The American circulation accounts for over half of the total."

    So 700,000 Americans are subscribers to The Economist, which is well below 1% of the population.

    But I'd have to imagine that small number is fairly concentrated in the upper reaches of American business and finance circles. Hell, I have three friends who read the magazine religiously and all three work on Wall Street.

  • Brian R. on July 10, 2011 6:31 PM:

    I recall during the 2008 election a bit of stink was raised about then-Senator Obama's preference for playing poker, whereas his opponent preferred craps.

    Yep. The man just pushed his stack into the middle on a big bluff and his opponent Boehner folded.

  • Brian R. on July 10, 2011 6:35 PM:

    Sorry, I forgot to continue that first post above.

    The Economist is read heavily by people who work in finance, the ones who we need to pull the leashes on Boehner and company and make them yield. So the circulation may be small, but the impact will far outweigh it.

    But my real point in saying it's clear Obama has played this well politically because of the Economist's editorial is that this is a paper that is reliably conservative, especially on matters of government spending and debt, and even they believe the GOP has gone off the deep end.

    If the Economist has been convinced, it's worked well.

  • troglodyte on July 10, 2011 7:11 PM:

    The Economist matters. I was once quoted in the Economist, and several people who outranked me in my organization commented on it.

  • Big River Bandido on July 10, 2011 7:15 PM:

    Um, no...the Economist is not "reliably conservative". They are a mouthpiece for neoliberalism: DLC economic "ideas" on steroids, or the New Republic that spells "color" with a u. That such a publication would rail on Obama's economic tinkering with extremist language is to be expected behavior from people facing a cut in their own income.

    The Economist is also incredibly tonedeaf when it comes to American politics. Something really gets lost in the translation to English.

  • pattonbt on July 10, 2011 7:56 PM:

    Everything Steve says is true, there is no refutation. That said, Obama (and the public) is going to have to eat a shit sandwich, simply because the Republicans don't care and the media doesn't want a compromise.

    The media wants the fight and once the fight was on the horizon (thanks Republicans!), they wanted the blood. This is just like the run up to the Iraq war. Once the media got whiff of a war, they wanted it. And this debt ceiling nonsense is essentially economic civil war. Rating Gold!

    There is no sense for the media to call this for what it is, the whole Upton Sinclair quote about getting people to understand things whose job it is to not understand comes into play here. Thats the media. They want the drama, they want the blood, they want the fight. They want Obama (are pleading with Obama) to fight loudly, angrily and publicly and he wont give it to them so they keep amping up the pressure. Not that they would then be all goody goody if Obama gave them what they wanted. They still want the blood and would still pimp the fight.

    That said, I don't necessarily "blame" the media as much as I blame the US people. You get what you vote for and the facts of what the Republicans stand for and what you get under their "governance" is there for any rational person to see. So it's our own fault.

    I no longer forgive people for voting Republican, I have lost any "niceness" or "forgiveness". I call them what they are "selfish assholes". People willing to sell out the larger country for a couple of bucks in ta breaks today (or hate spite against "the other").

  • mfw13 on July 10, 2011 7:56 PM:

    The reason its not a scandal is because most voters are too ignorant, uneducated, and distracted to care.

    It's the middle of summer vacation, and we live in a country where people know and care more about American Idol and their fantasy baseball teams than they do about their government.

  • Anonymous on July 10, 2011 7:57 PM:

    Republicans are actually scared to death of the debt ceiling. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OUUoj4MaNQ.

  • Anonymous on July 10, 2011 8:15 PM:

    yellowdog @ 3:47 PM - 218 votes are all that's needed to raise the debt limit; the Democratic caucus plus 50-60 Republicans. Boehner can certainly provide that number of votes. I fear that what Boehner is REALLY worried about is whether he can keep 50% +1 of his caucus behind him, thus keeping the Speakership, and then govern in some sort of coalition with the Democrats.

    "What makes you think they are ready to spin the biggest economic disaster since the 1930s?" zeitgeist @ 4:22 PM.
    Why would the Democrats HAVE to? I realize many posters refer to voters as stupid, unintelligent, call them "sheeple" and complain voters are completely swayed by ANYTHING Fox puts out; but, and this is important, if that's true, how does one explain ANY Democratic victory? Acording to this way of thinking there is absolutely no possibility of Democrats EVER being elected as Republicans control the MSM and the "stupid" voters blindly follow what the MSM says.
    The example you give of Democratic electoral failures implies that EVERYTHING is just a matter of "messaging". The major contributing factors to Carter's loss in 1980 were the Iran hostage situation itself and the ensuing failure to rescue the hostages and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; both leaving the impression of rampant anti-US moves and a government unable to meet those moves. I was overseas during the 1980 and 1984 elections and can't really comment on the effectiveness of Mondale's and Dukakis' responses, or lack of them, to Republican campaign ads. I DO know that a prime cause of the Democrats' loss in 1994 was the House "banking scandal", added to nearly four uninterrupted decades of Democratic control of that chamber. As for 2004, personally, I would like a truly impartial investigation with full subpoena powers into Blackwell's shenanigans in Ohio, as I doubt there was an honest count of the votes.
    "Messaging" is important, but unless you want to be merely a left-leaning version of the present Republican Party, those "messages" have to actually have something behind them. That's where Democrats suffer, we base our messages on policies thus limiting ourselves. Republicans base their messages on what Luntz et al tells them wins votes, regardless of policy implications. Two completely different approaches.

    Joe Friday @ 4:38 PM - "I don't think that word means what you think it does" seems to apply here. "Balanced approach", which you're taking to mean ONLY "Equal amounts of spending cuts and revenue increases", while possibly true at this point, could also mean only increasing taxes and no further cuts in spending. I don't think we'll see the latter happen with the current make up of the House, but it's a quiet, and effective, way to introduce and support the idea of raising taxes as part of ANY "deficit/debt" negotiations.
    The Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner. They love to compare the Federal budget to a household budget and they ARE correct in saying that the first thing one does to "balance" a household budget is cut spending. Okay, say we've done that and the "household budget" is still out of whack. Now, what do we do? We do what the Republicans are so vehemently against: we begin to look for ways to increase income. For an individual, that may mean a second or part-time job; for the Federal government that means (cue scary music!) increasing taxes. The reason Republicans ARE so vehemently against increasing revenues is because they know they don't have enough vote throughout the country to prevent it and they CAN'T run a national election, and win, on the premise of ONLY cutting spending. THAT'S why they're willing to "destroy the village in order to save it".
    They lied about jobs to win in 2010, but the only lie that can save them in 2010 is one they'll refuse to use: increasing taxes. True, Republicans COULD promise to raise taxes, and then only raise them on the middle and lower classes, but even Republicans aren't THAT dumb!
    If only they were...

  • Steve P on July 10, 2011 8:26 PM:

    "I cant help but think the vast majority of the public just doesnt fully appreciate whats transpiring here."

    They do, but they're thinking in terms of Bill Cosby taking the car keys away from Theo until he can pay to get the dinged bumper fixed.
    The MSM is too busy covering the Royals and Tot Mom to report anything else. Except if you tuned into ABC in the last month, you may have noticed that Diane Sawyer has a show on Sunday night. Judging from her delivery, it's about the dangers of cough syrup addiction.
    Anyway, who cares? All the important people will be safe behind their gates when the money turns to toilet paper.

  • exlibra on July 10, 2011 8:53 PM:

    And it's back to work, with Obama still pushing the bigger deal:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/us/politics/11debt.html?_r=1&hp

    Sounds to me like what Karen described, @1:27, in comments to an earlier thread:
    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_07/the_white_houses_tactical_vict030772.php#comments

    I'd love to see Boehner cry copper tears...

    "asesourn conflict". No kidding.

  • Josef K on July 10, 2011 9:27 PM:

    Much as it dismays me, I really can't argue against the conclusions drawn by Laurence Lewis at DailyKos.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/07/10/992708/-President-Obama-and-the-New-Deal?detail=hide&via=blog_1

    The takeaway: the President is not and has not forced an actual showdown with the GOP. He is playing on their field, by their rules, and repeating their talking points. He's done this time and again since taking the oath of office, to the point of being as ideologically rigid as the Republicans themselves.

    If this absurdity results in some grand (or at least semi-grandious) bargain, its good odds it will include raising the eligibility age of Social Security and/or Medicare, or at least something along those lines.

    And if that happens, Barack Obama will go down in history as the President who took the first step in dismantling the New Deal. I'm not sure how far to trust him anymore.

    Of course, all this may be academic if Boehner and fellows can't deliver enough votes to pass whatever monstrousity they cobble together. Nothing is certain anymore, and thus all things are possible.

    Its not a time or situation that encourages one to feel optimistic about the future.

  • pj in jesusland on July 10, 2011 9:39 PM:

    10 years ago Republicans forced America into an unnecessary war and claimed anyone who didn't support them was unpatriotic and a terrorist sympathizer. The resulting war not only cost thousands of lives on both sides it left us trillions of dollars in debt because it was funded on the United States' good credit. And they ruined America's military credibility in the process.

    Now the GOP is forcing America into an unnecessary debt crisis while claiming anyone who doesn't support them is fiscally irresponsible and unpatriotic. What nonsense.

    Why would we think Republicans care about credit ratings when they didn't care about getting the Iraq war justification correct? Their dogmatism is once again bringing America to a precipice. Unnecessarily.

    This is the opposite of leadership.

  • billybob23 on July 10, 2011 10:11 PM:


    Republicans protect the interests of the rich and Democrats the poor. Since there are so few rich and so many poor, how is it that the Republicans get elected? Clearly, there are a lot of us who are not rich being convinced to vote for the protectors of the rich. Many of the poor to middle class vote Republican on niche issues like guns, abortion, and keeping out Mexicans. Others believe the Republicans represent religious values. Look at the history of legislation and what changes have made the USA what we are so proud of today. Social Security, the right to organize, Civil Rights, Americans with Disability Act, access to higher education for the poor, and so on. All pushed through by Democrats and fought by Republicans. All accepted and embraced by both parties. So what exactly have Republicans done in the past that they are so proud of? Tax cuts? Wars like Iraq? These just lead to economic disaster at home. So if you are poor or middle class and vote Republican, ask yourself what is it that you are voting for.

  • spiny on July 10, 2011 10:18 PM:

    Steve, it's not much of a gamble if your opponent is playing on your team. The game is rigged. We lost.

  • Hieronymus The Troll Braintree on July 10, 2011 10:44 PM:

    The main reason the general public is ignorant of economic history and how extreme, wreckless,manipulative and intentionally dishonest the GOP is being is because nobody on our side tells them. Obama refuses to get on the TV with a prime-time address to explain basic economic history because, I think, he realizes that confrontationalism makes for bad social climbing, while the rank-and-file is too busy flattering itself to deign informing what they regard as the insuficiently sophisticated masses. Rachel Maddow may be on the case but she's an elitist who lacks the common touch, which means that people who are already inclined to agree with her are listening and pretty much nobody else.

    Politically, liberals are a scandalously dysfunctional lot. We really suck. Moosecock.

    America is headed for a fall. We may live to see the end of the empire. Shit.

  • FES on July 10, 2011 11:26 PM:

    I got sidetracked by the Game of Thrones family discussion before remembering that we have to pray the Gods of the bond market to stop the stark raving mad GOP

  • Joe Friday on July 10, 2011 11:58 PM:

    "'I don't think that word means what you think it does' seems to apply here."

    Given they said it means what I think it means, it certainly means what I think it means.


    "The Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner."

    Tell me that again after Obama agrees to massive unnecessary spending cuts.

  • Dan Kervick on July 11, 2011 12:01 AM:

    Maybe part of the problem here is that not many people really believe that failing to raise the debt ceiling will cause the country to miss any debt payments. Treasury will stop paying almost every other kind of bill the United States government has before it misses a single coupon payment on its debt instruments. Maybe Geithner will try to bluff on that, but who's going to believe a Wall Street insider like Geithner cares about anybody but the money people?

  • groggy on July 11, 2011 12:04 AM:

    Why doesn't Obama just call the bluff? The financial lobbyists will quickly go nuts persuading the GOP to raise the debt ceiling - right? if obama plays his cards right he can draw a line in the sand and actually make this a win. What am I missing about this?

  • spiny on July 11, 2011 12:10 AM:

    groggy, what you are missing is that Obama wants to make a deal. Why? because the confidence fairy will appear and magically boost his re-elect chances. I know, it makes no sense...

  • a on July 11, 2011 2:00 AM:

    Dear Steve: it isn't August 2 yet.

    Sigh. You're such an obsequious toady. I hope Nancy gives you a little medallion or something.

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  • Hank Roberts on July 11, 2011 5:17 AM:

    Hey, I've been wondering:

    When the government is shut down, that means no more elections, right? For example Minnesota right now -- the voters could not even recall and replace the elected officials, without an operating government, right?

    I wonder.

    "Gödel decided that he had discovered a flaw in the U.S. Constitution -- a contradiction which would allow the U.S. to be turned into a dictatorship."

    http://morgenstern.jeffreykegler.com/

  • Joe Friday on July 11, 2011 11:26 AM:

    groggy,

    "Why doesn't Obama just call the bluff? The financial lobbyists will quickly go nuts persuading the GOP to raise the debt ceiling - right? if obama plays his cards right he can draw a line in the sand and actually make this a win. What am I missing about this?"

    The White House is inept at negotiating ?

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