Letter from DC: Debt Ceiling Politics and Resistance to a Multicultural Nation

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There’s a very dangerous toxicity to Washington’s DC’s atmosphere right now that goes well beyond its 110 degree heat index and warnings to stay indoors because of the horrific air quality. You literally can see the proverbial haze and heat lightning engulfing the U.S. Capitol as extremists play chicken over the extension of the country’s debt ceiling to register their displeasure over a changing country.

What used to be a routine one-line legislative act - George W. Bush sought and was granted seven debt limit raises during his eight years in office - was cleverly leveraged this year by Republicans to confront the nation’s very troubling red ink, a strategy for which they should be applauded for forcing the issue.

Vice President Joe Biden shocked the Republicans by creating a proposal last month that essentially did that, identifying $2 trillion in spending cuts. To get Democrats on board, he needed some refinements to the tax code that let some of the Bush era tax cuts (the ones that helped blow the Clinton surpluses) expire for those making more than $250K a year, and close egregious tax loopholes created for specific industries and companies.

Dems lose soOld Ebbitt Grill.jpgme sacred cows as does the GOP. Classic DC compromise. Martini time. See ya at the Old Ebbitt Grill before we hit the beach...

The Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Eric "Little Lord Cantorkerous of Henrico County" Cantor (R-VA) walked out of the talks in a huff decrying any "taxation of job creators" after seeing the unexpectedly adroit return of serve.Obama and Boehner.jpg

The kids’ table got so cantankerous, the grown-ups had to retreat to the backyard to talk. In this case, it was President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) hitting the links and holding private talks to develop the "grand plan."

The proposal would have trimmed $4 trillion from the deficit over ten years through $3 trillion in spending cuts and $1 trillion from letting some tax cuts expire and closing some loopholes, or “simplifying” the tax code as Boehner put it. It actually surpassed a bipartisan recommendation by the Simpson-Bowles Commission for a 2.2 to 1 ration of spending cuts to revenues to reduce the deficit.

House Republicans went absolutely ape, emasculated Boehner, and forced a contrite retreat by him to the “no taxation of job creators” mantra.

Little Lord Cantorkerous decried the lack of sacrifice made by the President, although Obama would face the immense challenge of getting buy-in from his base on changes in the third rail of Social Security and Medicare that could be anathema to Democrats.

The magnanimous Little Lord’s sacrifice?  To even consider a debt-ceiling increase, something the Congress has never failed to do since JFK. How gracious indeed.  

But now the corporate community is starting to weigh in, realizing the potentially apocalyptic consequences of a U.S. default on its debt obligations. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who regards Obama as Public Enemy #1, has tried to get the Republicans to cool it, organizing a letter from multiple business interests that calls for a deal that pragmatically addresses the debt ceiling and the deficit.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saw the writing on the wall and has come up with a kick the can solution. With a default, Republicans “would have co-ownership of a bad economy. That is very bad positioning going into an election,” he told the Laura Ingraham Show.

McConnell.jpgAt least one knows where McConnell’s legislative priorities lie. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he infamously said in October of 2010 after the GOP captured the House. Nice to have goals...

What’s really going on here? It’s not policy. A debt default is unthinkable. The most stalwart of fiscal conservatives recognize the inherent inequity in targeted tax loopholes for hedge fund managers and oil companies that gave even George W. Bush pause. Who could not consider getting three bucks in spending cuts for a dollar in revenues a victory? 

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson seems to have articulated an answer. “[T]he anxiety our economy understandably evokes is augmented by the politics of racial resentment and the fury that the country is no longer only theirs. That’s not a country whose government they want to pay for - and if the apocalypse befalls us, they seem to have concluded, so much the better.”

Todd and Bruce are getting married. Jose and Consuelo are doing more than cutting lawns and nannying kids. A brother’s in the White House. These are scary times for conservatives accustomed to enforcing an American identity through “benevolent paternalism.” It’s time to take back the country and show who’s in charge, policy be damned.

This past week funeral services were held for Betty Ford, who single-handedly put breast cancer awareness and women’s health issues front and center in the national discourse, not to mention to remove many of the stigmas associated with alcoholism and substance abuse. Her husband honorably delivered the U.S. from the “national nightmare of Watergate.” 

Her message? “A time in Washington when Democrats and Republicans used to be friends, when their families were friends. The main message she wanted me to say is when you’re friends, government works. It’s like she planned it for this week,” eulogizer Cokie Roberts said.

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Marc Osgoode Smith has covered – and participated in - Washington DC policy circles for more than two decades as a journalist covering media and as an association and think tank executive. Smith now enjoys his role as a “cultural observer” of DC Politics and the people that engage in them.

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