SMATTERINGS 10/26/13: The Nub of Some Ongoing Issues

Our main stream television media must believe we can’t handle thinking about more than one issue at a time.  All the world was the congressional budget/debt ceiling battle for three weeks or so.  Before that, all the world was Syria and their chemical weapons.  Before that, I can’t recall.   Like most Americans, I have a short memory, even shorter than most as a member of the social security set.

English: Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3...

English: Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on March 21, 2010, by congressional district. Click the map for a much larger image and details (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now all the world is the faltering Obamacare web site.   Of course, this is the world the Republicans want us to dwell in, while the Democrats wish to constantly refresh our memories about how obstructionist the Republicans were in regard to the extension of the budget and raising of the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile the Republican Civil War is steadily simmering en route to a boil, with many of that party angry at Ted Cruz and his Tea Party set for making Republicans look imbecilic to a majority of the rest of us with their non-plan to stop Obamacare.    Had that not been the case, they could have been focusing attention on the clownish internet roll out for weeks.

Oh, well, they are making up for lost time by holding congressional hearings to accentuate the disaster to the public mind, the “train wreck” that they “knew” to be Obamacare even before it was passed.   Well, of course, they didn’t know, and they still don’t know, nor does anyone know how this will play out overall.   ( I know, many individuals already have personal stories, seemingly more negative than positive, but the whole thing has barely begun to be rolled out.)

The Federal Debt Ceiling and Budget Extension Battle

After much struggle and gnashing of teeth, the government reopened what was closed and will remain “open” at least until January 15, when the appropriated money runs out.   Also, the debt ceiling either will need to be raised again Feb 7 or government default on federal debt payments will once again be in the offing.

In short, the political arm twisting accomplished little more than postpone the match for a few months so both sides can enjoy the holidays and rest up.    Well, there are two things that may be seen as accomplishments down the line.  One is the formation of a Senate/House committee to try to actually come up with joint budget recommendations by Dec 13.

Given the inability of the two parties to come to terms on budget issues for a few years now (except for the sequester which they forced upon themselves through inaction), it is hard to get too excited about the prospects, but the upcoming second point might help.

Point Two is what seems a clarification of the political hazards of using the threat of a government shutdown and/or a default on federal debt as bargaining chips in future negotiations.  According to most polls the Republican “brand” took a big hit through all of this because they are blamed more for causing it.  (Don’t you just love how everything has been turned into a brand these days, including each of us.)

While the Tea Party types say they will continue to use such tactics, the rest of the Republican party doesn’t look like it will fall in line next time out.

The Republican Civil War

Recently I heard that Liz Cheney called John McCain a “liberal” which among the right is like “sinner”  was used in the early days of Puritan America.   A little Googling of the issue will reveal that Republicans are deeply divided between those who think of Ted Cruz as a hero and those, like Representative Peter King of New York, who called him a “fraud.”   Of course, party leadership tries to paint this as healthy debate within the party, but when one side in a debate refuses to compromise, there is no room for resolution.  Hence, a civil war.

I never tire of pointing out the irony of the Tea Party folks always proudly defending the constitution as if it were dropped from the heavens on a tablet.  It is a remarkable piece of work but it came about through torturous compromises, the most profound being the toleration of slavery in the new republic.   “Compromise” was not a dirty word to the founders, but a necessity to establish a stable central government.

How the Republican split will play out by January is sheer guess work, but if the rift doesn’t heal (and i do not think it will), Republican moderates and Democrats may actually work together on some sort of fiscal compromise that lasts longer than a few weeks.

Obamacare

As indicated above, one reason many Republicans are angry at Ted Cruz and his posse is that in pushing for changes in Obamacare that weren’t going to happen and in turn making the party resemble the keystone cops of early film days while trying to somehow look sensible, attention was paid to their intra-party squabbles and not to the initial roll out of the Obamacare website, which turned out to be the Democrats’ own version of the Keystone cops.

Here is my take on Obamacare.   It has barely begun to be rolled out and it is not going away, so let’s just wait and see how it plays out.   When Republicans argue that it is a disaster and a majority of Americans agree, keep in mind that the right has called it a disaster from the beginning, even when it was little more than an elaborate idea.  Since most Americans, including me, know little about it, if they feel it is a disaster it is because the Republican message has been more effective than that of the Democrats.   A part of that success is because negative advertising is more effective than positive, which is why campaigns are largely made up of the former.

In man-in-the-street interviews, when asked if they prefer Obamacare to the Affordable Care Act, most people state the latter, while oblivious to the fact they are the same thing.  In terms of brands, Obamacare doesn’t look good right now.  But it is not going away anytime soon, so let’s see what happens between now and the mid-term elections in 2014.

If Obamacare really is the train wreck portrayed by the Republicans, they should come to dominate both houses of Congress, that is if they haven’t torn apart the party by then.

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The Budget/Debt Ceiling Truce: A Return to Sanity

The subtitle of my post last Wednesday was a misstatement.   I wrote: Welcome to Crazy Day.    It should have been more along the lines of Welcome to a Return to Sanity.   It just felt crazy watching the Republican controlled House push the debt limit issue to the final hour.

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-KY)

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-KY) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we can agree that a large part of “crazy” is being out of touch with reality, the crazy element was provided by the Tea Party in general and Ted Cruz in particular.   If taken at face value, Cruz believes that Obamacare is “such a train wreck” that he is willing to do anything to stop it, even play poker using “the full faith and credit” of the United States as a bargaining chip.

I think it safe to say that most economists and businessmen would say it is a terrible misjudgement, to say the least.   The U. S. government bonds are considered the safest investment in the world, and that should last for a long time, unless Cruz and company actually succeed in pushing us to the edge of debt default as a ongoing month to month strategy.

That seems unlikely after this recent stalemate, but it is worth noting that he and his followers seem not to realize that the leading economy in the world cannot maintain world trust ( and the rewards therein) when these matters are battled over every few months and potentially taken to the edge of default whenever the Tea Party chooses to.   You may have heard about a Chinese editorial titled:  U.S. fiscal failure warrants a de-Americanized world.   They are working on creating a de-Americanized world and these recent shenanigans only help make their case.  Click the article and see.

But back to Ted Cruz and his fellow T. P.’ers.   In keeping with their collective insanity, they act as if they won this last round, with Cruz praising many in the House as “profiles in courage.”  What courage?  They were elected from gerrymandered districts whose voting majority share their insanity/simpled-mindedness.   Their reckless behavior only enhances their stature, at least from the extremist base.  Again, what courage?

Amongst the numerous opinions and statements about this recent bit of congressional trench warfare, to me the most significant comes from Mitch McConnell, minority leader of the Senate.   He has stated there will not be another government shut down when this issue comes to a head again Jan 15 and I infer he won’t work to put our remainingl “full faith and credit” in jeopardy by playing games with raising the debt ceiling when that comes due Feb 7.

This is a weather vane of changing winds because McConnell is up for reelection in 2014 and he has been careful to draw as little Tea Party criticism as possible fearing a strong primary challenge from them.     His indicating he will not play the Tea Party’s game in upcoming months suggests he is willing to take the heat they will torch him with, thinking that his chances of surviving politically are higher going against Tea Party wishes than endorsing them,

It is one of many signs of a widening Republican civil war, which makes it impossible to predict what will happen regarding these matters in upcoming months.   But more interesting than the normal gridlock.

The Debt Ceiling: Welcome to Crazy Day

I hear that 69% of the Tea Party think we do not really need to raise

Debt Payment

Debt Payment (Photo credit: Images_of_Money)

the debt ceiling in order to avoid a default on our debts.   It does seem we can squeeze out enough money to keep things going into November depending on how much money the government takes in on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean that the world won’t be shaking apart economically and financially between now and then because they have lost faith in us.

Incredibly the relatively itty bitty Tea Party is holding all the world hostage, but I still believe House Speaker John Boehner will finally break with them.  Apparently the stock market believes that, too, as the Dow  is up nearly 200 points at the moment.   As I predicted a couple of posts ago, Boehner will allow for a vote on some version of the raising of the debt ceiling and probably an extension of the budget.  Then we can breathe a collective sigh of relief for a few weeks or so.  Maybe even a few months when it comes to the debt ceiling.

With political polarization bringing us to this precipice. it seems a good time to step back and remember that a majority of us are more or less moderate, and not on the rabid right or left.    The problem is our political structure does not allow this middle to prevail.  Not that that will be corrected any time soon, but it does raise the possibility that it might be corrected SOME DAY before we really sink ourselves.

Perhaps my favorite moderate conservative columnist is Kathleen Parker.  She just wrote an editorial about this issue and a recent study confirming the notion of a majority middle, and not a nation totally polarized.

We might yet be able to get things right one day, assuming that we do not self-destruct in the mean time.  Here is Parker’s piece in the Washington Post.

The Budget/Debt Ceiling Battles and the Republican Civil War

As I type, Republican Senators are meeting at the White House with the President to discuss the issues of extending the budget and raising the debt ceiling, one of many recent maneuvers in Washington that suggests some kind of deal will be reached soon regarding at least the raising of the debt ceiling for a short period of time and possibly an extension of the budget (“opening of the government”).

Ted Cruz - Caricature

Ted Cruz – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

According to polls the Republicans are being blamed significantly more than the Democrats for the morass in which the government resides, but a NBC/WSJ poll indicates 60% of respondents would like to fire every member of Congress, so while the Republican “brand” seems to have taken a bigger hit in this ongoing  folly, Democrats should keep celebrations to a minimum.   They are not exactly being embraced, either, by many Americans who are angry at them all.

What I find most interesting in all of this is the shape the Republican party will take after the dust eventually settles over these budget/debt issues (for awhile at least;  it figures to dust up again and again).

Flicking back and forth this morning between Fox and MSNBC,  America’s divergent realities, I saw Senator McCain on Fox’s America’s News Room.   While he called the Obama handling of the death benefits for 29 military families a “disgrace,” I was surprised to see him blame the Tea Party faction of his own party even more (*1).  Had they not insisted on a losing strategy tying these fiscal issues to Obamacare, the government wouldn’t be shut down and these death benefits would be a non-issue.   Deep in his soul, I think John McCain would iike to punch out Ted Cruz.

Flicking to MSNBC, they were showing the Cruz-ader himself at the Values Summit (reactionary values) preaching to the faithful, getting big applause while tripling down on rolling back Obamacare, as if he has been right all along and the rest of his party had better wake up.  Then back to MSNBC and conservative Columinist Charles Krauthammer is being quoted as lambasting the Cruz strategy of attaching Obamacare to the current fiscal issues which he and obviously McCain see as the party shooting itself in the foot.

Watching the happy-as-a-clam Cruz basking in the love of his fellow travelers while also seeing establishment Republicans like McCain and Krauthammer slice and dice his Obamacare non-strategy, I have to conclude that there will be no healing of this rift.

Establishment Republicans have embraced the Tea Party for the energy it has elicited in the base of the party, but at the same time have found themselves being threatened and voted out of primaries by that passionate hard core.   Until recently, they have refrained from harsh attacks on  Cruz and company, but since Cruz shows no inclination to play political ball with them, a nasty battle for the heart of the party seems inevitable.

It should get very interesting.

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(*1)  While it gets complicated, I think the administration has not done everything it could to make the shutdown the least painful as possible.   The fiasco over not paying death benefits to the families of troops seems the most egregious case in point.   It is likely the administration has believed the Republicans would receive more of the blame, but in the death benefits case, they don’t look good, either.  Hence, Obama just signed a bill allowing these payments despite his position he would not except piecemeal moves to fund parts of the government.

It is because blaming the administration would seem the normal target for John McCain, his emphasizing the fault within his own party is striking.

John Boehner: You Have the Keys to the Car. When will you drive it?

Maybe John Boehner can’t be counted upon to do the sane thing after all.   Especially as some other Republican voices are saying the default could be managed, paying off the most important things while delaying others.   They act like this is a very simple matter that can be controlled once let loose.

John Boehner - Caricature

John Boehner – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

In my previous post I praised Boehner for telling Republican colleagues that he would not allow a default of federal debt Oct 17, i. e. he would not hold that possibility as a bargaining chip.  He would not risk bouncing the world’s economy around like a basketball.

Apparently he has changed his mind. Since my post he has indicated there must be negotiations for such a bill to pass.   He now says a “clean” bill (one with no strings attached like defunding Obamacare)  to raise the debt ceiling would not have the votes to pass in the House.   However, many observers disagree with that assessment.   Around 20 Republican Representatives have said they would sign such a bill to prevent default and they, along with all 200 or so Democrats, would reach a majority of 218.

When I last wrote it seemed Boehner would use the government shutdown as his bargaining chip, while sparing the world’s nerves about the debt, but It seems he has changed his mind.   He seems to think he needs all of his chips to get some sort of face saving deal for the Republicans.   They were stuck in a corner by Senator Tom Cruz and 30 or 40 members of the House who insisted on linking both a Continuing Resolution to extend the budget and the raising of the debt ceiling to defunding and/or delaying Obamacare.

Even though many Republicans, including the 20 or so Representatives indicated above, are angry with Cruz and frustrated by his dead-end strategy, they are trying to get some sort of concessions so save face, essentially broadening their stand beyond Obamacare to their key identity issue of reducing government spending and size.

In the process they are making many empty accusations about the Democrats’ unwillingness to negotiate despite the fact that Republicans have refused for months to negotiate on these issues through what once was a normal process of appointing conferees from both houses to work out a deal between their two separate budgets.

Boehner now keeps talking about their willingness to have a conversation, but the President won’t, as if there is time now to have much of a conversation about anything of substance.   And the House has come up with several pieces of the Budget they are willing to pass individually, heart string pullers, like cancer trials for children, a disgusting attempt to make the Democrats seems heartless, as if there are not many others suffering due to this shut down, but not quite as high profile.

Underlying this struggle are memories of the last big battle over raising the debt ceiling months ago which led to the sequester which has been a victory for the anti-spending Republicans but now seems modest after Cruz and company have aimed for so much more.

I still believe that Boehner will not allow a default of federal debt and he does have the power to call a vote in the House on a clean resolution to raise the debt ceiling.  Just as he does on a  vote on a clean continuing resolution to extend the budget and “re-open” government, if he was willing to bring that to the floor,   He has the keys to the car.  The question is if and when he will drive it.

To me, that makes him the most powerful man in the world for now and maybe he likes the adrenalin rush.

Here’s what I think will happen.   One way or another bills will be passed to both extend the budget and raise the debt ceiling, but for short periods, even a few weeks perhaps, that will leave us mired in this struggle.

The can will continually be kicked down the road.  Quite likely at least to the 2014 mid-term elections.

Speaker Boehner Says there will be No Default on Debt

What with the federal government continuing to shut down as i write and the question of raising the debt ceiling by Oct 17 (or so) looming even larger, I have too many thoughts and too little space, unless I turn this blog into a booklet.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

Official portrait of United States House Speaker (R-Ohio). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fortunately, House Speaker John Boehner has helped simplify matters some by telling colleagues he will not allow us to default on our debt for the first time in history.    That’s the biggest economic iceberg to avoid as indicated by the last time we got close to defaulting in 2011.   According to a Treasury report, consumer confidence and the stock market plummeted and interest rates spiked.  Also, one credit agency lowered our credit rating.

And we didn’t even default, just danced around the cliff of possibility.   When Boehner says he will not let a default happen it is BIG NEWS, if you believe him and I do.   It means he will allow a measure to come to the floor in the House before Oct 17 that can attract enough votes from each party to pass.  That thought figures to settle a lot of nerves here and around the world.

Need I point out that we are what I would call the world’s cornerstone economy?   That our currency is used as the reserve currency by all other nations who also buy our government bonds in times of tumult because we are considered the safest place in the world to keep one’s money.  Not paying our debts would make us a world class deadbeat with world wide ramifications that defy prediction.

Boehner’s willingness to bring a debt ceiling bill to the floor contrasts with his unwillingness to bring a continuing resolution to extend the budget and reverse the government shutting down.   In this matter he seems stuck in searching for some face saving measures regarding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is what extreme Republicans in the House, egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, have insisted on making part of any continuing resolution (CR) deal.

While the shutdown isn’t as big a deal, economy-wise, as defaulting on our debt payments.  economist Mark Zandi has suggested it will have a snowball effect.   Now suffering is a matter of a number of individuals, but in four weeks the economy figures to suffer, and suffer exponentially more the longer the shutdown.

With the debt ceiling looming in a couple of weeks, it seems that the two issues will be combined by Congress in some form or fashion, though I couldn’t say what sort of sausage the congressional cooks will paste together.   A combination of delays of this and that and short term budget measures and a raised debt ceiling ……..who knows how much? ……supposedly giving them time to come up with a real deal in a month or two…..   a song we have all heard often before.   But at the moment there is no other.

At least, the Republican extremists that I wrote about in my previous post have lost some of their power to obstruct any kind of reasonable deal.   Most Republicans agree with the sentiments of Tea Party types, but many are angry about the Ted Cruz strategy to link dismantling Obamacare to keeping the government open.  At a luncheon two days ago he got an earful from several  Republican Senators for blasting fellow Republicans who did not agree with his “strategy”,   even though his strategy has no end game.

The President seems unlikely to give much ground on Obamacare, so what are the Republicans in the House supposed to do regarding passing another temporary budget?  They are now offering the ploy of suggesting refunding the government one piece at a time,  like turning the budget into one huge jig-zaw puzzle with all the time in the world to complete.  Budget Hawk Grover Norquist   dismisses the Cruz “strategy” like so:  “He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away”

And no one has been left dodging more cars than the Speaker himself.   While stepping up to the plate in terms of the debt issue, thanks to Ted Cruz and company, Boehner is stuck demanding some kind of face saving measure in terms of refunding the government.  Perhaps the Obama team will end up offering a small concession or two on Obamacare, like taking away Congress’s exemption from the program and delaying a tax on certain medical instruments.   Nothing that really impacts the program much, but can be spun by Republicans into some kind of victory.

Or these issues might become camouflaged in a combined measure to both extend the budget and raise the debt ceiling.   Or perhaps Obama will hold firm and try to force the Republicans to cry uncle regarding his health care plan.  I’m curious as to how this will play out.

Yesterday President Obama blamed Boehner for preventing a budget deal to be reached by refusing to put the issue to a vote in the House.   Obama’s point was well made, but I think the timing unfortunate, as Boehner’s comments about the debt ceiling took place prior to it.

Boehner, unwilling to play games with the debt ceiling this time around, deserves credit for having cast aside the biggest Republican bargaining chip. the possibility of defaulting on the debt, so I wish he had not gotten immediately lambasted by the President for his position on the other main issue, extending the budget.

Oh well,  I guess John Boehner is pretty used to being batted around like a Pinata by now, within his own party and without.  Even though I usually disagree with what he says and does, I like his fortitude.   Remember that movie Being John Malkovich?   I wonder what it is like being John Boehner these days.

Ever hear the phrase “a cat on a hot tin roof.”