Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Debt-Ceiling Divide

From Charles Krauthammer:

We’re only at the midpoint of the battle to change the ideological course of the country. 

We’re in the midst of a great four-year national debate on the size and reach of government, the future of the welfare state, indeed, the nature of the social contract between citizen and state. The distinctive visions of the two parties — social-democratic versus limited-government — have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama’s inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous, ubiquitous cliché. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered.

We’re only at the midpoint. Obama won a great victory in 2008 that he took as a mandate to transform America toward European-style social democracy. The subsequent counterrevolution delivered to that project a staggering rebuke in November 2010. Under our incremental system, however, a rebuke delivered is not a mandate conferred. That awaits definitive resolution, the rubber match of November 2012.
I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal — rollback, in Cold War parlance — is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.

Lincoln is reputed to have said: I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky. I don’t know whether conservatives have God on their side (I keep getting sent to His voicemail), but I do know that they don’t have Kentucky — they don’t have the Senate, they don’t have the White House. And under our constitutional system, you cannot govern from one house alone. Today’s resurgent conservatism, with its fidelity to constitutionalism, should be particularly attuned to this constraint, imposed as it is by a system of deliberately separated — and mutually limiting — powers.

Given this reality, trying to force the issue — trying to turn a blocking minority into a governing authority — is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.

Consider the Boehner plan for debt reduction. The Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm calls it “regrettably insufficient.” Of course it is. That’s what happens when you control only half a branch. But the plan’s achievements are significant. It is all cuts, no taxes. It establishes the precedent that debt-ceiling increases must be accompanied by equal spending cuts. And it provides half a year to both negotiate more fundamental reform (tax and entitlement) and keep the issue of debt reduction constantly in the public eye.
I am somewhat biased about the Boehner plan because for weeks I’ve been arguing (in this column and elsewhere) for precisely such a solution: a two-stage debt-ceiling hike consisting of a half-year extension with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts, followed by intensive negotiations on entitlement and tax reform. It’s clean. It’s understandable. It’s veto-proof. (Obama won’t dare.) The Republican House should have passed it weeks ago.

After all, what is the alternative? The Reid plan with its purported $2 trillion of debt reduction? More than half of that comes from not continuing surge-level spending in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next ten years. Ten years? We’re out of Iraq in 150 days. It’s all a preposterous “saving” from an entirely fictional expenditure.

The Congressional Budget Office has found that Harry Reid’s other discretionary savings were overestimated by $400 billion. Not to worry, I am told. Reid has completely plugged that gap. There will be no invasion of Canada next year, no bicentennial this-time-we-really-mean-it 1812 do-over. Huge savings. Huge.

The Obama plan? There is no Obama plan. And the McConnell plan, a final resort that punts the debt issue to Election Day, would likely yield no cuts at all.

Obama faces two massive problems — jobs and debt. They’re both the result of his spectacularly failed Keynesian gamble: massive spending that left us a stagnant economy with high and chronic unemployment — and a staggering debt burden. Obama is desperate to share ownership of this failure. Economic dislocation from a debt-ceiling crisis precisely serves that purpose — if the Republicans play along. The perfect out: Those crazy tea partiers ruined the recovery!

Why would any conservative collaborate with that ploy? November 2012 constitutes the new conservatism’s one chance to restructure government and change the ideological course of the country. Why risk forfeiting that outcome by offering to share ownership of Obama’s wreckage?


  1. Really? I love the Reagan vids, like he is some darling of fiscal responsibility. This man spent more during his 8 years in office than the previous three presidents combined. He also had the debt ceiling raised 9 times during his tenure, with none of the political pandering you see today.

    Why should the generation of people aged 18-40 shoulder the burden of this supposed economic reckoning? These wars and corporate bailouts were not the decision of any of these people, yet in the next 25 years we are the ones who will be saddled with this disgusting legislation. We have an infrastructure in this country that is crumbling. How do we propose to fix this? By cutting every necessary social program that we can find? Get a clue....

    I'm tired of a generation of old white christians telling me that I need to get my fiscal house in order. This is your generations bills that I'll be saddled with. The parties on the hill do not represent me, or anything even close to me. Go out and vote someone else in you say? Whats the point? There are only two choices in this supposed Democracy, and they are both corporately owned.

    If and when this debt deal is passed, it will be the most damaging piece of legislation this country has ever seen. Welcome to the United States of America, brought to you by Coca Cola....

  2. First, how about we end the Military Industrial complex that the Republicans have instilled in this country over the last 45 years. We spend more on defense than the next three largest countries combined. I propose a flat 30% reduction in discretionary defense spending, as well as the end to all wars currently being fought. That alone will create enough revenue to build a national labor board that is controlled on a state to state level. These state boards would be responsible for the rebuilding of America from the ground up, with jobs that are needed NOW. This is simple really, just follow the path of the New Deal, but instead of federal government subsidation, it would be on a state level. The Feds would just provide the interest free capital. Private contractors could bid on state programs, right along with the state itself. May the best bid win. This should at least give the Tea Party some sense of capitalism is at work.

    Second, I would install 4 year term limits on EVERY elected office at the federal level. NO EXCEPTIONS! These assholes are in a state of perpetual campaign financing. They don't have the time to listen to their constituents when they are hosting $5,000 a plate dinners for the latest corporation to throw a pittance their way. Citizen's United effectively killed the two party system in this country. Roe v Wade just knocked it down.

    Third, we need to reinvest in the youth and young adults of this country. Not cut Pell Grants and low income lunches for minorities. American exceptionalism is still there, we just don't federally fund it anymore. Teachers wages have not moved since 1970, and the advent of the For Profit Public Universities have hamstrung any young American wanting to further his education. The youth of this country have been fed line after line of BS about how a University education guarantees them a live of ease and expendable income over people without. Give me a break. The only thing a college education guarantees is that a 22 year old will have $50k worth of debt. How is this a fair trade? Trade schools and federal scholarships should be available to ANY AMERICAN that wants them, and affordable to ANY AMERICAN. You shouldn't have to have a credit score of 750, a co-signer, or be a white christian to got to college.

    Don't even get me started on the public school system. How narrow minded have we become where we now have to debate what we teach our kids in school? Teach it all! Let the kids and parents decide what they want to learn. Government interjection into public school curriculum is not only un-Americam, its just stupid. Want to teach Creationism? Thats fine, this is America. However, it shouldn't be the decision of some partisan school board for ALL students.

    Finally, I want more for my tax dollar! I'm taxed at the highest rate in the entire country by income. I make less than $50k/year, and am under 35. Why is this? Why is my money so much more valuable than Bank of America's, or GM's? Corporate welfare, and the tax haven culture that have flourished in this country have only served to widen the already ridiculous disparity in the wage gap. Reaganomics, Voodoo econ, and Trickle Down econ, have all showed themselves to be little more than tactics to enrich the already rich. Just look at the data! It doesn't lie. These corporations need to be taxed at a rate of at least 35%, with no credits or other loopholes. A flat 35% tax on all profits. THAT WILL RUN EVERY MAJOR CORPORATION OUT OF THE USA! Good. More will just pop up to take their place, and they won't have the entitlements of the status quo. They also won't be interfering with the political process.....