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“They Haven’t The Foggiest Idea”: The Hostage Takers Disagree Over The Ransom Note

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said on Monday that he’s prepared to block a debt-ceiling increase, consequences be damned, unless Democrats give him “a full delay or defund of Obamacare.” Even if Democrats offered him changes to Social Security in exchange for nothing, the New Jersey Republican said, it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy him.

Just 24 hours later, Garrett appeared on CNN and said he’s prepared to block a debt-ceiling increase unless we “begin to address our entitlement problems.”

One lawmaker, one issue, two completely different positions.

Similarly, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — remember him? — has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, making his priorities clear.

The president is giving Congress the silent treatment. He’s refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That’s a shame—because this doesn’t have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough. We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.

What does Ryan have to say about the Affordable Care Act? Nothing. In fact, the 1,000-word op-ed doesn’t mention the health care law at all.

Much to the chagrin of right-wing activists, Ryan apparently wants to change the ransom note. He’s comfortable with threatening deliberate harm to the nation unless Democrats meet Republican demands, but the Budget Committee chair wants to replace Tea Partiers’ priority (taking health care benefits away from working families) with his priority (tax reform and entitlement cuts).

Now, I have a hunch I know why Ryan ignores “Obamacare” in his preferred ransom note, and it’s not because he forgot about it. Republicans are reluctant to admit it, but the Affordable Care Act vastly improves the nation’s finances in the coming years, and repealing it would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt. Ryan can’t afford to destroy the health care law — he uses it in his own plan to balance the budget over the next decade.

More important, though, in the bigger picture, Republicans aren’t just flailing, they’re lost.

They shut the government down last week, and they’re prepared to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States next week. They freely admit they’re prepared to impose self-inflicted wounds on Americans, on purpose, unless their demands are met.

And what are those demands? Even now, after months of planning and fiascos of their own making, the party’s own leaders and members haven’t the foggiest idea.

Here’s a radical suggestion: maybe Republicans can reopen the government, agree to skip the sovereign debt crisis, get their act together, and get back to us?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, October 9, 2013

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are No Asterisks”: Those Who Wrap Themselves In The Constitution, Must Also Abide By The Constitution

Shortly after the 2010 midterms, as the newly elected House Republican majority was poised to start governing (I use the word loosely), the GOP officials had an idea for a symbolic gesture: they’d read the entire Constitution out loud. In January of this year, as the new Congress got underway, they did it again.

There wasn’t any harm in this, of course, but there wasn’t any point, either. It seemed to be the Republicans’ way of reminding the political world that they are the ones who truly love the Constitution. Sure, there are parts conservatives don’t like (the establishment clause, promoting the general welfare), and the right is eager to amend the document in a wide variety of ways, but for Tea Partiers and their allies, the Constitution has no greater champions than far-right congressional Republicans.

And if that’s still the case, Kristin Roberts has some bad news for them.

Have Republicans forgotten that they too must abide by the Constitution?

The document is explicit in its instruction to America’s federally elected officials — make good on the country’s debts. “The validity of the public debt of the United States,” the 14th Amendment states, “shall not be questioned.”

This is not some arcane biblical reference that needs to be translated from scraps of parchment. In fact, its purpose and intent are fairly well documented.

There’s been quite a bit of talk about exotic tactics President Obama may have to consider if congressional Republicans choose to push the United States into default on purpose. Maybe the White House can pursue a “14th Amendment option.” Maybe he can mint a “platinum $1 trillion coin.” Maybe the Treasury can create “Super Premium Bonds.” Maybe the president can do something to protect Americans from those who would do us deliberate harm, even if those people happen to be elected members of Congress. After all, if the validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned, doesn’t Obama have a constitutional obligation to protect us from Republicans’ sociopathic tendencies?

Maybe it’s time to turn the question around on those who like to wrap themselves in the Constitution they claim to revere.

As this relates to Obama, there’s some disagreement among credible experts about whether the president can act unilaterally to circumvent the debt-ceiling law. Obama himself addressed the point yesterday, arguing that it really is up to Congress to complete this simple task and it wouldn’t do any good for him to experiment with creative alternatives.

But that only helps reinforce the importance of the question for congressional Republicans who swear to support the Constitution before they’re permitted to hold office. The document says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” It doesn’t say anything about justifying extortion schemes, or holding the public debt hostage, or protecting the integrity of U.S. finances in exchange for right-wing goodies to satisfy U.S. House candidates who won fewer votes than their rivals.

Likewise, Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution — known as the Full Faith and Credit Clause — doesn’t include any asterisks about what happens when one party really hates health care reform.

When the 14th Amendment was ratified, U.S. Sen. Benjamin Wade, an Ohio Republican, argued, “Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress.”

Today’s congressional Republicans are prepared — some are eager — to betray this commitment, ignore their constitutional responsibilities, and put Americans’ wellbeing at risk for no particular reason.

Those who claim to cherish the Constitution have some explaining to do.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 9, 2013

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Constitution, Debt Crisis | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Slow-Moving Disaster”: Republicans Remain Ignorant Of Disastrous Sequester Effects

Both the New York Times and Politico have reports out today on the debt-ceiling-denial caucus, the Republican lawmakers who believe that defaulting on America’s obligations by failing to raise the debt ceiling in a timely fashion would be no big thing. “I think it’s a lot of hype that gets spun in the media,” said Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho. Pronouncements of a debt ceiling disaster are part of “a false narrative that’s been perpetuated by this administration,” adds Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

But the Times also noted that some unnamed GOPers believe that breaching the debt ceiling  won’t be a catastrophe because, they say, the government shutdown and the budget cuts under the so-called sequester were both supposed to be bad, but so far haven’t been:

But the voices of denial are loud and persistent, with some Republicans saying that the fallout from the continuing shutdown and the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration has been less severe than predicted.

Perhaps these unnamed representatives haven’t been paying attention, as they’ve been too busy trying  to deny people health insurance, but the personal and economic effects of both the shutdown and, perhaps more importantly, the sequester, have been serious and extremely detrimental to the country.

For starters, the shutdown is costing the U.S. economy some $300 million per day in economic output. Thousands of children were thrown out of Head Start, mine safety inspections have been cut back and a national computer network that helps track food-borne illnesses was closed down during a salmonella outbreak that, so far, has sickened 278 people in 18 states.

But those effects pale in comparison to those caused by the sequester, the across-the-board automatic spending cuts that came into effect due to the Budget Control Act, which was the piece of legislation that arose out of the last debt ceiling debacle. Here are just some of the problems that have resulted from the abysmally low spending levels under the sequester:

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Just because Republican lawmakers in D.C. haven’t noticed these things, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. (And matters aren’t helped by a media with little patience for slow-moving disasters, which is how the sequester has played out.)

Remember, the sequester was never supposed to actually come into effect. But the sad fact of the current state of play when it comes to the shutdown is that the sequester seems here to stay. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has railed against the deleterious effects of the sequester, is willing to reopen the government at sequester levels of spending; Democrats have already swallowed a bill that would re-open the government with most of the sequester intact.

In that sense, Republicans have already won when it comes to government spending, which is what a shutdown is traditionally about (though Republicans do have an on-again, off-again love affair with the sequester, which for a time they dubbed the “Obamaquester“).

But make no mistake: Funding the government at the level outlined in the sequester means crippling cuts to programs upon which people depend and foregoing crucial investments in the coming years. Continuing the sequester is by no means as bad as defaulting on the national debt, but it’s still a self-inflicted catastrophe. The debt ceiling deniers, then, are doubly ignorant: ignorant of the mess they’re trying to cause and ignorant of the mess that’s already here.

 

By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, October 9, 2013

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Republicans, Sequester | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Truly Essential Government Services”: Military Death Benefits, The Shutdown And The Importance Of Government

It gives a tragic new meaning to the term “death tax.” Families whose sons, daughters, husbands, wives and parents lost their lives in Afghanistan are now being denied the benefits traditionally given to defray the cost of funerals and travel costs to retrieve the remains. The funding cutoff, first reported by NBC News, is due to the government shutdown, which has stopped all but “essential” government services.

The House is set to pass a special bill restoring that cash. It’s unclear what the Senate will do. While expenditures involving the troops – especially fallen troops – are sacrosanct to lawmakers in both parties, Democrats have been loath to approve what they view as a GOP policy of releasing one hostage at a time while politicians fight over whether and how to reopen the government.

But the gut-wrenching impact on military families does serve one purpose. It reminds people of what their government does.

The understandable discontent with Washington has ballooned into a disgust with government of any kind, and a rejection of anything that has the word “government” attached to it. And it’s easy to point to government programs that may be bloated or outdated, or regulations that may do more harm than good.

But government programs are not just the big things – Social Security and national defense, for example – or even the smaller, but more controversial things, such as foreign aid or food stamps. It’s stuff like death benefits for families who have lost loved ones in conflicts they had nothing to do with authorizing. It’s things like payment for the Women, Infants and Children program – something that may be a budget item for those lucky enough not to need it, but which represents a life necessity for poor pregnant women and mothers.

We don’t all benefit directly from every single government program. They’re there because they represent  who we are – a nation that cares for its own, whether it’s hungry people or a family who needs to bury a servicemember.

Lawmakers can certainly debate the structure or funding level of such programs; that is, of course, their job. But it’s important to remember that much of what government does seems invisible – not because it’s not working, but because it is working.

Give LIHEAP assistance to low-income people who can’t afford to heat their homes, and it can appear to a hardline fiscal conservative like the aid is not doing any good. But take it away, and have an elderly person freeze to death in her home, and suddenly, the program seems useful. The National Transportation Safety Board might seem like just another government bureaucracy. But when a deadly bus crash occurred in Tennessee, and a Metro worker was killed while doing repair work over the weekend in Washington, D.C., the absence of a functioning NTSB becomes more evident. Sometimes, the value of government programs is the absence of disaster and pain. Military families are just one casualty of trying to function with almost no government at all.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 9, 2013

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Federal Government, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Circular Firing Squad”: Right Wing Lashes Out At Paul Ryan Over Obamacare

In one of the most surprising examples of how committed Republicans truly are to attacking the Affordable Care Act, the right wing is lashing out at Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) for being insufficiently committed to killing Obamacare.

The anger stems from an op-ed by Ryan published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Ryan used the platform to pitch his plan to end the debt ceiling crisis: Republicans would raise it in exchange for a deal in which they agree to roll back some of the sequester cuts, and Democrats agree to cuts to earned-benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Ryan left the specifics of his plan rather vague, but given the House Budget Committee chairman’s history with “common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code,” it’s a safe bet that he has another ideological “vision document” in mind. Combine that with Ryan’s long track record of killing bipartisan budget negotiations, and it’s not hard to imagine Democrats recoiling at the prospect of having yet another debate over a Ryan budget.

What is surprising, however, is the negative reaction that Ryan’s op-ed garnered on the right. As Tom Kludt points out at Talking Points Memo, right-wing groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, and RedState.com immediately lashed out at Ryan for failing to include the death of Obamacare in his demands in exchange for not intentionally crashing the global economy. Ryan made no mention of the law in his op-ed (perhaps because he knows that its repeal is not realistic, perhaps because he needs the law’s savings to balance his own budget).

And they weren’t alone. Amanda Carpenter, a spokeswoman for Senator Ted Cruz, tweeted ”There is one big word missing from this op-ed. It’s start [sic] with an O and ends with BAMACARE.” Ben Shapiro, an editor-at-large at the right-wing Breitbart.com, lamented that “Paul Ryan dropping Obamacare demands re: shutdown and debt ceiling is suicidal strategy. And sadly typical.” And the list of angry right-wingers goes on.

The backlash was enough to make Ryan reassure Republicans that he is, in fact, committed to taking health insurance away from the tens of millions of Americans who will obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

“Obamacare’s an entitlement just like any other entitlement. So that, as far as we’re concerned, is in this conversation. Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, those are the big drivers of our debt,” Ryan told radio host Bill Bennett on Wednesday. “If you look in the op-ed, I say we have to — ultimately we have to rethink all of our nation’s healthcare laws.”

But he didn’t go as far as to demand that the law’s repeal be linked to the debt ceiling. “I don’t know that within the next two weeks we have a viable strategy for actually repealing Obamacare, every piece of it,” he told Bennett.

The fact that far-right conservatives would turn on Paul Ryan — who was a hero of the movement as recently as this spring — illustrates just how committed they are to the impossible dream of convincing Democrats to kill the law as a condition for reopening the government and paying its bills. It also underscores just how futile negotiations with the House would be for President Obama and the Democrats; if another Ryan plan wouldn’t be sufficiently conservative for the right, then there’s really nothing that the president could offer that would satisfy his opponents.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, October 9, 2013

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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