Remember the proposals that were current back in 2011 to have President Obama invoke his authority under the 14th Amendment to keep funding America’s public debt, even without approval from Congress? Well, that proposal has suddenly become highly relevant again, even urgent.
Don't worry--unlike what's going on in Washington now, this is only a drill. (Flickr/USAG-Humphreys)
The most important fact about the shutdown crisis, which is soon to become the shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, is that Democrats are not making any demands. The only thing they want is for the government to reopen and for the United States not to default. Since these are things Republicans also claim they want, they can't be considered demands. Republicans, on the other hand, have lots of demands, even if they keep changing. That's why the current Republican talking point—"Why won't the Democrats negotiate?"—is fundamentally misleading. One way for this whole thing to end is for Republicans to give up their demands and admit they've lost. Unsurprisingly, they're reluctant to do this. But what if Democrats started making a demand of their own?
Compromise is often an unhappily revealing art. “Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are,” the philosopher Avishai Margalit writes. In finding compromises with Republicans on the federal budget, Democrats need to remember not only who they are but who the voters depend on them to be.
At some point this year, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling, as well as deal with a host of out-standing budget issues. But rather then try to discuss them in good faith—free of a manufactured crisis—Republicans have all but announced their decision to take some kind of legislative hostage, as soon as they can find one. Here’s Lori Montogomery, reporting for The Washington Post:
In the election of 1952 my father voted for Dwight Eisenhower. When I asked him why he explained that “FDR’s debt” was still burdening the economy—and that I and my children and my grandchildren would be paying it down for as long as we lived.
I was only six years old and had no idea what a “debt” was, let alone FDR’s. But I had nightmares about it for weeks.
Yet as the years went by my father stopped talking about “FDR’s debt,” and since I was old enough to know something about economics I never worried about it. My children have never once mentioned FDR’s debt. My four-year-old grandchild hasn’t uttered a single word about it.
President Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details.
The Senate vote just before dawn in favor of a permanent tax hike on the top one percent defers virtually all of the other budget battles. Assuming the House follows suit today, it is up to President Obama and the Democrats to radically change the conversation.
It’s gone under the radar, but Politico reported this morning that, after a private request from President Obama to raise the debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner responded with a (not so) veiled demand.
“There is a price for everything.”
Sure, but that doesn’t mean you always have to pay it. Unlike last year, when he needed House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling—lest the United States fall into a second recession—Obama has all the leverage in this situation. If he does nothing, taxes on the rich return to their Clinton-era levels, and Republicans will have to negotiate from an unfavorable baseline.
In a new poll, Gallup asks voters to rank their priorities for the next president. Unsurprisingly, the top answer is “jobs,” followed by “reducing corruption in the federal government,” and “reducing the federal budget deficit.” Here are the full results:
Writing at the Washington Examiner, Byron York cites this as evidence that the Obama campaign is out of step with the public:
Yesterday afternoon at the National Press Club (the standard Washington venue for events that need a little class), the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget—a bipartisan debt-reduction group—rolled out its “Fix the Debt” campaign, an attempt to push deficit reduction to the top of the congressional priority list. It's hard to overstate the extent to which this was an almost stereotypical gathering of Beltway deficit scolds.
In today’s New York Times, David Brooks has an extended meditation on debt that relies on one giant omission:
Recently, life has become better and more secure. But the aversion to debt has diminished amid the progress. Credit card companies seduced people into borrowing more. Politicians found that they could buy votes with borrowed money. People became more comfortable with red ink.
Today we are living in an era of indebtedness. Over the past several years, society has oscillated ever more wildly though three debt-fueled bubbles. First, there was the dot-com bubble. Then, in 2008, the mortgage-finance bubble. Now, we are living in the fiscal bubble.
If Barack Obama turns out to be a one-term president, historians may mark the summer of 2011 as the moment his failure became inevitable. At that point, the new right-wing Republican House majority declared the national debt hostage and demanded Obama’s surrender to them on all points of domestic policy. When the debt-ceiling statute required authorization of a new federal borrowing limit, they refused to vote on the measure without massive cuts in federal spending and no increase in federal revenue. The crisis was averted by the appointment of an idiotic congressional “supercommittee” that was supposed to identify future cuts, matched with a set of “automatic” cuts that were to take effect if the “supercommittee” failed to come up with a compromise aimed at reducing federal debt.
The voters in France and Greece have rejected the parties of austerity. But it is not yet clear that the party of growth can deliver the recovery that the citizenry wants. On both sides of the Atlantic, the obstacles are more political than economic.
In Europe the conventional wisdom, enforced by Germany and the European Central Bank, still holds that the path to growth is budget restraint. Unfortunately, the more that budgets are tightened, the more economies shrink and the more revenues fall. No large economy has ever deflated its way to recovery.
Social Security will run out of funds in 2033—sooner than forecast last year—according to a new government report. Medicare's hospital insurance fund will be gone by 2024. Together, the programs account for 35 percent of all federal spending, and if the trust funds—which are made up of the difference between the payroll taxes paid toward the programs and the benefits doled out—were depleted, benefits would be automatically cut by 25 percent. Social Security's disability insurance faces the soonest expiration—it is now scheduled to run out of money in 2016, two years earlier than projected last year.