Hitting Our Heads on the Debt Ceiling Yet Again

Once again the question of raising the central government debt ceiling, last raised in October, is on the table, supposedly having a deadline tomorrow, but treasury can pull various strings to delay the real deadline to the end of the month, and some on the right think they could extend it a lot longer with no harm.   I call the latter:  big gamblers.

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker ...

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker of the House before delivering the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it a safe bet they will raise the debt ceiling once again over the next few weeks, but not before there is much sound and fury signifying nothing, to borrow a phrase from a fellow name Faulkner.

The deadline will be raised again because Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said “nobody wants the government to default on its debt” and since all he has to do is allow a bill to come to the floor of the house where the Democrats will push it to victory, he is the most important nobody of all.

So, why all the huffing and puffing in the interim?   The Republicans want to keep hammering home the issue of the ever accumulating national debt as our biggest national problem that we must deal with right now, so at least something should be cut if we are to raise the debt ceiling again.

Since the party has wandered far from its tradition of unity and discipline during the Obama years, actually having more voices demanding to be heard than the Democrats for a change, it never hurts to band together to pan Obama and those big spending Democrats one more time.

Also, I imagine Republican strategists have keyed into evidence that a majority of Americans like the idea of curbing spending, reducing the number of government workers, getting our house in order so to speak.   I don’t have the exact facts at my finger tips (meaning I can’t recall where I got them), but there was a study last fall indicating that Americans are not as divided as commonly conceived, that there is a large middling majority that more or less agree upon most issues.    The issue that struck me most was that a large majority of this majority favored a balanced budget amendment.

Of course, if you took a poll as to how they would balance the budget, they might be all over the place, but it just seems a common sense thing to do.   Well, that’s true for your family but the national government has  never operated like anybody’s family.  Deficit spending has been the norm and it has worked well because our economy has regularly grown so it can carry large deficits as long as that per cent of GDP remains relatively low…..  At this point, I’m sorry I got into this…..

My point is, whether right or wrong,  about half the voters want a smaller less regulatory government, in theory at least.   And despite a large majority of knowledgeable opinion to the contrary, many Americans seem willing to gamble with the debt ceiling.  No doubt Republican strategists recall a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last fall in which 44% of those polled were against raising the debt ceiling to 22% who were for it, leaving 34% unaccounted for, at least in the article.

“People’s first instinct is how fed up they are with Washington and spending,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “This is a very difficult issue in terms of public opinion.”

So, all the ongoing sound and fury may signify something, keeping the heat up on general American resentment towards big government (except for individual programs we each love, of course).   As long as the right doesn’t go over board and makes the world economy nervous, all their belt tightening chatter may help Republicans in the mid-term elections next fall and that is what all the political posturing is aimed at now and for months to come.

Isn’t that right?

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Obamacarelessness: Matt Miller Gets to the Heart of the Matter

Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection an...

Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t care to write about Obamacare, but Matt Miller does and has.  Mr. Miller is what I would call a compassionate pragmatist, but he must look radically liberal to those on the right as he believes higher taxes and greater government investment in education is necessary if this country is to turn itself around.   If this post prompts further interest, you can learn a lot more about him if you check out his web site.

I mention Miller because in a recent editorial in the Washington Post he gets to the heart of what basically separates the world views of Republicans and Democrats, especially the Republican power brokers of today.   It is the differing significance each gives to the role of luck in life.  Democrats tend to think of themselves as fortunate to be where they are, while Republicans tend to think of themselves as deserving.  In turn,  Democrats tend to look at less successful people as less fortunate, while Republicans tend to see them as undeserving, or at least far less deserving then they are.

As such, despite being one of the richest men on the planet and a perfect poster child for the self-made man, Warren Buffett leans Democratic as he sees himself as having had a lot of luck in life, beginning with his being born a man in 1930s America and the automatic advantages that conveyed.  Need I add, especially for a white man.  Such advantages a Republican would take for granted.

The Republican answer to Obamacare is no Obamacare and then maybe we’ll agree to make some changes in the health care system that will somewhat benefit perhaps a million or two, rather than the 20 million Obamacare aims to aid a great deal.  And don’t remind us that the roots of Obamacare grew out of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, because we never really thought that was a good idea to begin with.

Despite its now looking like Obamacarelessness, given the lack of a real alternative, if you are well insured but relate strongly to:  “There but for fortune go I….”  it is Obamacare or nothing, for the Republicans don’t feel a need to offer anything  comparable as suggested in Miller’s piece:  Obama’s Well Insured Critics.

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.”

Immigration Reform: Passes Senate and Now Will Dawdle in House

Republican Mural

Republican Mural (Photo credit: Burns Library, Boston College)

Yesterday the Senate immigration reform bill passed 68 to 32, picking up all Democrats and 14 Republicans.   Now it will move to the house where it will be largely ignored while the Republicans slowly come up with their own piece meal version, if they come up with anything at all.

In my previous post I suggested a long shot scenario in which Speaker John Boehner would bring the Senate bill up for a vote in the House, but I’m upping my odds to 40-to-1 as he holds steadfast to the notion he won’t bring up a bill that lacks the  support of over 50% of his caucus, which the Senate bill will never get.

Sooooo…..like soooo many other things in congress, the bill will dilly dally until who knows when, perhaps for months as Congress adjourns in August and then in September they will be back to battling issues of a budget extension and raising the debt ceiling.  The ongoing tug-of-war that gets us nowhere when it comes to our fiscal problems.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about immigration reform is  the split between those 14 Republican Senators and the Republican majority in the House, one of many indications of a fractured party.

Those 14 reflect the belief that the Republicans cannot win a national election without shifting the balance of Hispanic votes away from the 70% level that voted for Obama.   Those Republicans who oppose immigration reform are largely a combination of those whose careers are insured by Gerrymandered districts as long as they don’t look at all liberal, and/or out of the belief that enabling more illegal residents to become citizens will likely produce even more voters for Democrats.

It is one of several splits within the Republican Party that make it difficult for them to come up with a coherent message at the national level and produces a tightrope for Republican presidential candidates to walk, pressured to be more main stream in terms of the general election, but sufficiently conservative in the primaries to receive the nomination.

A topic we will return to at a later time.

Immigration Reform: How’s It Going?

At this point, the immigration bill appears likely to be passed in the Senate soon and then go to the House.   The bill, like most, is complex and I don’t pretend to understand its ins and outs, though I do know more about it than I will get into today and my sense is it would create a much better “system” than we have now.   Which wouldn’t be all that hard when you think about it.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

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

But why bother getting into the pros and cons of the bill when the House Republican majority seems in such disarray that it is hard to imagine anything constructive happening in that chamber?

If you haven’t heard, Speaker Boehner could not deliver enough Republican votes to pass the relatively uncontroversial farm bill yesterday after indicating that he did have the votes, which reflects the chaos that is the House.

Of course, Boehner blamed the failure on the Democrats for not supplying enough votes themselves, but….. the point is a deal seemed to have been reached and then suddenly wasn’t.  If you recall, the Speaker has thought he has had the votes on at least one other measure in the past that wound up failing, which suggests a degree of underlying chaos in his caucus.

For the Senate immigration bill to even come to the floor of the House, Boehner as Speaker has to allow that to happen and, according to the Huff Post Tuesday, he said:    “[A]ny immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen,” Boehner told reporters after a meeting with House Republicans. “And so I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.”

Well, there is NO CHANCE that a majority of Republicans will support a bill, so unless he changes his mind about that, there is little left to say about immigration reform other than it will soon become a dead issue for the time being.

Now, could Boehner change his mind and let the bill go to the floor of the House and allow it to be passed largely by Democrats but with enough Republicans to make it through?   Well, I think there is a long shot chance he could?  Why?  Because the mishandling of the farm bill was one more embarrassment for the Speaker and he is a proud man who just might be willing to risk losing his Speakership to a Tea Party rebellion if able to get something noteworthy accomplished in the House that figures to benefit his party in the next presidential election.

It would probably be political suicide, but there are worse ways to go and it would be taking a bullet, so to speak, for the Republican Party at large as opposed to its right wing factions.    Simply put, if the Republicans are to regain the White House in the foreseeable future they will need more than the 30% of Latinos who voted for Romney in the last election.  And this immigration bill would help in that regard.

I admit that is just my fantasy, but as a horse player who has won on the occasional longshot, I’d bet two bucks with anyone that he does just that, though you will have to give me 20-to-1 odds.

An Alternative to Thinking About the Sequester

Happy Sequestration Day, or Eve as it begins at midnight, I think.   According to the Huff Post, there will be a White House meeting today between President Obama and top congressional leaders, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner.   I will be shocked….shocked I say….if it produces anything except more animosity, though it is hard to fill a jar that is already full.

For those who have forgotten, this whole sequester thing was the result of a series of discussions, primarily between the Obama team and the Boehner team back in mid-2011.  Discussions on a fiscal compromise that went nowhere, so in August of that year they came up with this gun-to-the-head scenario called the sequester.   Surely, the threat of across the board meat cleaver type cuts would make both sides come to some agreement.   Well, no.

It seems widely agreed upon that the key stumbling block is the Tea Party wing of the Republican House.  It has been said politics is the art of compromise.  They apparently didn’t get the memo.  They are thrilled that they can do nothing and still get some budget cuts.   It is not that they are so powerful as a block, maybe 30 or 40 of them in the House, but the well funded Tea Party threatens other members with campaigns against them in the next election.  It has come to be called “being primaried,” and to my mind a cancer in the Republican Party.

So, Boehner, who is actually a pretty flexible guy, is very limited in what he feels he can agree to in negotiations, especially if he wants to remain Speaker.  That’s not the whole problem, but it is a big part of it.

According to Bob Woodward, on July 6, 2011 the President and Speaker Boehner met while still trying to make a deal.  “But at the end of the meeting, despite their previous discussion about pressing staff to find an agreement, they remained far apart on the key issues of taxation and entitlement reform (the emphasis my own).

That split remains wide and intractable.  At this point, I agree with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that both sides seem “willing to just let the sequester happen as long as they don’t get blamed for it.”


Thank you Monty Python for the above intro.   I can only think so much about our congressional gridlock before getting brain cramps, so as a form of refreshment I suggest TED, which produces an ongoing series of great lectures, showing nearly infinite human potential, in contrast to that reflected in Congress.   Anyone familiar with Ken Robinson?   I wasn’t until recently, but now I know he is recognized internationally as an expert on the subject of creativity, something I’d love to see Congress show a bit of.

He is much more interesting than the sequester and funny, too,  as I think you will agree.  Do note, though, it is an 18 minute talk, so put some time aside or prepare to listen in nibbles (I know it’s a mixed metaphor.  I love to mix metaphors if you haven’t already noticed).