Debt ceiling cowardice and confusion

A wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. This is what Obama, with his fiscal cliff plan, threatens us with.
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Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) today answered Barack Obama’s despicable ransom demand on the debt ceiling—with an offer of surrender.

What is McConnell saying about the debt ceiling?

McConnell did say one true thing today. On the floor of the Senate he said that he would not pretend that a bad plan on the debt ceiling was a good one. He said that Republicans would never sign on to a “shake down” of the American people. He even said that Congress could never really solve the debt problem as long as Barack H. Obama held office.

But then McConnell did something no one can explain. Obama threatened to withhold Social Security benefit payments if he did not get the massive tax increases he wants. So McConnell essentially offered the President everything he wanted!

What exactly did McConnell offer?

He offered a bill to authorize Obama to ask for three debt ceiling raises, of $2.4 trillion altogether, by next summer. Obama would have to suggest certain spending cuts, but need not agree to them. Congress could pass a resolution disapproving of each rise. Obama could then veto such a resolution, and Congress could only override that by the usual two-thirds majority of both houses.

McConnell insists that Obama would get his debt ceiling rise, but might regret it. Obama would be responsible, and risk having the public hold him accountable, for the debt ceiling rise and any damage it might do. But though McConnell told the Senate that Republicans would not “enable” Obama in spending too much money, he now proposes exactly that! By throwing away congressional authority to act, or to stop Obama from acting, he enables him.

Few can doubt, with any justice, that Obama will raise the debt ceiling unilaterally as soon as Congress grants him any authority to do so. He will go through the motions that the McConnell bill asks. Congress might or might not pass a disapproving resolution. (The Senate almost certainly will not.) Even if Congress passes it, Obama will veto it. And he will tell the American people—truthfully–that he never did anything that Congress did not authorize.

This is cowardice. Throwing away the power to stop a thing is the same as agreeing to let that thing happen. Neither McConnell nor anyone who votes for that plan will be able to say anything in mitigation.

Why is McConnell doing this?

Sen. Mitch McConnell--the face of cowardice on the debt ceiling

Mitch McConnell has just taken the coward's way out on the debt ceiling. (Official photo: United States Senate.)

He is doing this because Obama has made him afraid. Obama first threatened that the United States will default on the debt instruments of the US Treasury. Today Obama threatened to withhold Social Security payments starting on August 3rd if he did not have a debt ceiling rise. In other words, he held everyone’s grandmother up for ransom.

The first threat is empty. The United States brings in plenty of money every month and every year to redeem any Treasury bills, notes and bonds that anyone presents for payment. The United States can still “roll over” any debt that it so redeems, and pay the interest. So if the United States ever does default on any such instrument, that will be a Presidential, or at least a Treasury, decision.

The second threat contradicts everything that Social Security’s apologists have said all along: that Social Security is prepaid and “contributes not one dime to the deficit.” Again, if those checks do not go out, that can only be because Obama refused to sign them, or ordered his Secretary of the Ttreasury not to sign them.

But of course Obama said that to make men like McConnell afraid. “Those nasty Republicans cut off your grandmother’s Social Security!” they will cry. Terrorists say something just like that when they take hostages and use them as shields, and their opponents shoot the hostages anyway, or at least risk that to avoid a surrender that would cost even more. That doesn’t make it any more valid.

McConnell forgets something important: This is war. And if the American people are really as fickle as McConnell is afraid they might be, then he ought to resign from the Senate now, and let Kentucky’s governor send someone to the Senate who will act as prudence, and conscience, dictates.

Has McConnell actually introduced anything?

No, he hasn’t. And no one is yet willing to challenge him on it. (Though Senator Harry W. Reid, D-NV, his Democratic counterpart, said that he was interested in it. As of course he would be—what has his side to lose?)

The House would have to pass any such bill, too. Every American interested in preserving his liberty (and property, from higher taxes) should call his Representative and tell him or her to vote, “No!” And the Republican caucus in the Senate ought to remove McConnell as their Floor Leader and elect someone else more willing to lead. Like McConnell’s junior colleague from Kentucky, Rand Paul.

Featured image: a Weimar-era householder wheels a barrow full of worthless Reichsbanknotes to the corner baker to buy a loaf of bread.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

10 Responses to Debt ceiling cowardice and confusion

  1. Camille says:

    So where was the Tea Party when we raised the debt ceiling under Bush Jr. and even Reagan?

  2. Geno says:

    A pox on all their houses.

    They are pointing fingers at each other while refusing to accept their Constitutional responsibilities and make the difficult decisions that must be made…. and which will not get easier by putting them off for a later congress/administration to deal with.

    McConnell should be recalled for his abdication of responsibility. It’s obvious the only thing he’s trying to achieve is to allow the (necessary) debt increase while appearing to oppose it.

    Oh yeah… as for Social Security. For decades the program was running a HUGE surplus. Guess where it was “invested?” In US Treasury debt. By doing this Congress was able to hide the true magnitude of their excesses. Well, now the Baby Boomers are starting to retire and the money is going out faster than its coming in.

    As for what will happen to Social Security checks on Aug. 3 without an increase in the debt limit, I challenge Terry to specify where the money will come from to cover both necessary debt payments and Social Security during the first week of August.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Simple arithmetic. We can meet both with the revenues coming in. The Treasury Department will have to find other programs to cut. Now Obama can let Congress do it (which is Congress’ job), or he and that Department can try to do it themselves. Let them make up their minds.

  3. DinsdaleP says:

    An answer to Camille’s question would be appreciated, since I had posted a similar point elsewhere here and it went unanswered as well.

    I suspect the reason for the silence is that there’s no good answer to the hypocrisy. The multiple increases under Reagan apparently were fine, as were the increases that sailed through a Republican Congress under George W. Bush. The latter turned a surplus into a $9 Trillion deficit in eight short years, and “Deficits don’t matter” comments from Cheney underscored those policies. Strange how the outrage was held back for all those years until Obama took office.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Well, maybe I simply object to that question as incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial. But without waiving my right so to object, I will say that one of Reagan’s mistakes was not challenging the moral premises behind some of those government programs. The American people didn’t get it then. They get it now. And that’s what you and Camille are afraid of.

      • DinsdaleP says:

        I’d like to see how my point is “incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial” by any objective standard. Frankly, it’s a response based on name-calling over substance.

        Let’s set Reagan aside for a minute and focus on recent events. A conservative Republican president who had a Republican-controlled Congress to back him up for about six of the eight years of his administration runs a surplus into a $9 trillion deficit. Many Republican members of Congress today were in office during those years as well.

        There was no debt-ceiling outrage as multiple increases took place from 2001-08, and the net deficit increase during that period was almost twice what’s taken place during Obama’s administration so far. I was one of the people who “got it” during those years, and protested the Bush tax cuts as being irresponsible while he was starting two wars. Math doesn’t lie, and everyone who enabled the Bush fiscal policies, Democrat and Republican alike, bears responsibility for the mess we’re in.

        All we’re asking is “where was the outrage when this took place just a few years ago, when your party was in charge?”. That is absolutely material and relevant. Competent goes without saying.

        • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

          Your argument assumes without warrant that I carry any brief for George W. Bush. I do not. Neither does the Tea Party. He spent like a drunken sailor, too. Obama made that problem worse, not better.

          • DinsdaleP says:

            My point isn’t that you approved of the George W. Bush policies, or that most of the people who regard themselves as Tea Party supporters do either. I never said you did.

            Your disapproval underscores my point. Where was the vocal disapproval, let alone protest, when Bush and his Republican Congresses were “spending like a drunken sailor”? They created about twice the deficit growth that Obama did, so why wasn’t the Tea Party formed then?

            Let’s look at who was in Congress during those years – people who never started any movement to reign in the excesses when their party had control of the Executive and Legislative branches to drive real change:

            “Conservative Leadership”
            Jim DeMint
            John Boehner
            Eric Cantor

            “Congressional Tea Party Caucus Members”
            Joe Barton
            Steve King
            Mike Pence
            Pete Sessions
            Lamar Smith
            Joe Wilson
            Jerry Moran
            Pete Sessions
            (and this is only a partial list)

            When the Tea Party formed, why weren’t these people targeted for replacement in 2010 the way people who don’t demonstrate fiscal responsibility are targeted now? Instead, they suddenly “found fiscal religion” and are declaring themselves to be part of the Tea Party instead. What a joke, and shame on anyone who buys into their hypocrisy for not being able to see them for what they are.

            All of these people were part of the problem, and waited until Obama was in office to even call it a problem even though 2/3 of this mess was created by them. If you want to discuss “Debt Ceiling Cowardice”, the names above make the start of a good rogue’s gallery.

            I’d also be curious to see what essays or editorials you wrote during the Bush years to protest what was happening to our fiscal solvency, back when the conservatives were running things. I’m happy to stand corrected, but it seems like you’re one of many who stood silent while a $9 trillion elephant was being built in the room for eight years, and only started saying something when the other party inherited the mess and could be blamed for not fixing it in two.

  4. […] Debt ceiling cowardice and confusion […]

  5. DinsdaleP says:

    Oh, and apologies for leaving Mitch McConnell off the lists above. He was in Congress for all of the Bush years, which adds some specific irony to his statements today:

    – Like the one where he says he’s still interested in reaching a deal with the president “that cuts spending and makes a difference for the country.” He had years to do that with Bush but didn’t.

    -Or the one claiming that Obama has left Republicans with two bad choices: “either sign onto a bad deal that raises taxes or go into default and allow us to have co-ownership of a bad economy.” This one’s laughable since the Republicans ran Clinton’s surplus into a $9 trillion of the current deficit before Obama took office, and are now claiming not to “own” any of it?

    -At least this one has a ring of truth: “If these debt negotiations have convinced us of anything, it’s that we can’t leave it to politicians in Washington to make the difficult decisions they need to get our fiscal house in order”. Yep, they had 6 years of total Republican control and blew it, but are actirung like these same culprits deserve our trust now to fix it.

    Even Michele Bachmann is showing her “do as I say, not as I do” stripes by trying to get over half a billion taxpayer dollars to fund a highway bridge through the swamplands of Minnesota, while campaigning on the need for everyone else to show fiscal restraint.

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