For some time, I've been arguing that we should not just extend the debt ceiling but get rid of it altogether. It's a weird historical anomaly that serves no practical purpose other than allowing the opposition party, should it be sufficiently reckless, to threaten global economic catastrophe if it doesn't get its way. I assumed that your average Washington Democrat would share this view, but now I'm beginning to think that if you're someone like Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, the debt ceiling is actually quite helpful, and you'd be sorry to see it go.
Because here's what keeps happening: The debt ceiling approaches. Republicans begin making threats to torpedo the country's economy by not raising it, and thereby sending the United States government into default, if their demands aren't met. We then have a couple of weeks of debate, disagreement, and hand-wringing. Republican infighting grows more intense, and their reputation as a bunch of radicals who are willing to burn down the country to serve their extreme ideology is reinforced. At the end of it, the Republicans cave, the ceiling is raised for some period, and we do it all again in a few months.
I have no doubt that right about now, Chris Christie believes he's being treated unfairly. He sees himself beset by his political opponents, by the media (both local and national), and even by some Republicans who'd like to see the guy who a few months ago looked like the most formidable 2016 presidential contender get knocked down a few pegs. And for what? Because a couple of knuckleheads who worked for him thought tying up traffic on the George Washington Bridge would be a good way to stick it to some two-bit mayor? That's what brings down a man whose destiny it was to be the leader of the free world? How can a just universe tolerate such a thing?
Like many a politician before him, Christie was elevated by an adoring media, and is now being laid low by that same media. But his biggest problem is not that unfair conclusions are being drawn about what he and his administration have done. It's that everybody's looking at everything. A reporter who gets a tip about some funny business happening with something connected to New Jersey state government doesn't have to work hard to convince his editors to let him pursue the story. People involved in politics who have interesting stories to tell, and who might never have considered them anything more than amusing tales to swap over drinks, now say to themselves, "Maybe I should call up a reporter." The snowball of Christie-related misdeeds starts rolling down the hill, grabbing everything in its path.
Since I wrote about postal banking this morning, I've decided to continue the day's shameless, lowest-common-denominator clickbaiting by talking about a new Congressional Budget Office report and the Affordable Care Act. Hang on to your hats.
With all the hype of a new Beyonce album, the CBO dropped its latest report on government finances and other related topics, which includes the news that the deficit has dropped to its lowest level since Barack Obama took office. This may prove inconvenient for Republicans still invested in fomenting deficit panic, but they'll be helped by the fact that most Americans actually believe the deficit has gone up in the Obama years. According to a new poll from the Huffington Post, not only do 54 percent of people think so, but 85 percent (!) of Republicans think so.
In any case, the part of the CBO's report that's getting more attention is their projection that as a result of the ACA, the labor force will be reduced by 2 million in 2017, rising to 2.5 million in 2024.
This doesn't actually have anything to do with postal banking. It's just awesome. (Flickr/grilled cheese)
It's often said that being poor is really expensive, and one of the most painful ways is what millions of Americans have to pay in order to make sure their bills are accounted for. If you're poor, time and money and intertwined in ways that people who aren't poor don't have to worry about. When your income and your expenses are right around the same amount, you have to worry about timing constantly. I'm not getting paid for a week, but this utility bill is due in three days, and I have to set aside enough for food and gas—how should I handle that? If I write my rent check on the same day as I get my paycheck, will the former clear before the latter? For many, the only choice to avoid catastrophes like getting evicted or having your power cut off going to one of the payday lenders and check-cashing operations you can find in every poor neighborhood. And since those payday lenders know their customers have no other options, they make them pay through the nose. As an analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showed, "Fees at storefront payday lenders generally range from $10 to $20 per $100, though loans with higher fees are possible...A fee of $15 per $100 is quite common for a storefront payday loan, and would yield an APR of 391% on a typical 14-day loan." The median interest rate for the loans they examined was an incredible 322 percent.
If we wanted to do something about this appalling exploitation of the poor, what are our options? One solution is tighter regulation of payday lenders, limiting their usurious interest rates and requiring them to offer reasonable terms to their customers. Colorado passed requirements like that a few years ago, and they've succeeded in reducing the amount of misery payday lenders can pour upon the state's most vulnerable citizens (there are details here). But there's another option. There's an organization that has thousands of locations around the country, already performs some financial transactions (selling money orders), and is eager for new sources of revenue. It's called the Postal Service. If they began offering some limited banking services, it would seem like a win for everyone—poor Americans would get access to banking without crippling interest rates, and the USPS would make money. Who could possibly object?
Before yesterday's Super Bowl, President Obama sat for a ten-minute interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. The interview was about what you'd expect: a grab-bag of conservative grievances, discredited conspiracy theories, and attempts at gotcha questions. Why didn't you call Benghazi terrorism! Why haven't you fired Kathleen Sebelius! Why did the head of the IRS visit the White House! And my personal favorite, when O'Reilly read a letter from a viewer asking, "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?" Ah yes, the "transform America" outrage, as though that 2008 statement must have been a coded message meaning Obama wanted to destroy America, combined with the old Why aren't you people more grateful?
The question is, though, why on earth would a Democratic president bother to grant an interview to an antagonistic conservative talk show host? The New York Timesdescribed the interview as "an unpleasant duty that was more or less unavoidable," but in truth it was nothing of the sort. A solo interview with the president is a relatively rare privilege given to only a few journalists. I don't remember George W. Bush inviting Keith Olbermann to interview him in the White House. So what gives?