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“Driving Through Red Lights”: Extreme Chaos Being Caused By The Unrivaled Republican Gang Of 40

In the 1970s, in its days of hard-line Communist isolation, China was ruled by the extremist “Gang of Four.” Drivers then were sometimes encouraged to proceed at red lights because red was the revolutionary color signifying advance — resulting in a chaos that was emblematic of the times.

In the United States, we always do things in a grand way, so it’s a tribute to American exceptionalism that we have far outperformed China in the field of extremist ideologues. We don’t have some pathetic little foursome, but an unrivaled “Gang of 40.”

That’s my name for the 40 hard-line Republican House members who have forced the shutdown of the federal government and are now flirting with a debt default that could spin the world into recession. In their purported effort to save America money, they’re costing us taxpayers billions of dollars.

Obviously, there are differences — our Gang of 40 disdain Mao suits — but there is a similar sense in which an entire nation is held hostage by a small group of unrepresentative figures who don’t have much of a clue about economics or about where they’re taking the country.

The Gang of 40’s government shutdown has been bad enough, cutting off death benefits to families of service members and ending federal support for rape crisis centers. It’s doubly painful that all this is happening while the House and Senate gyms remain open.

(Bravo to the Washington restaurant that is offering a 10 percent discount to some federal workers, while posting a 10 percent surcharge to members of Congress. Maybe members of the Gang of 40 should also be compelled to wash dishes?)

What’s most troubling about the mess is the way the extremists downplay the risks of running into the debt limit. Astonishingly, Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida veterinarian, says that missing the debt ceiling deadline “would bring stability to world markets.”

Or there’s Senator Rand Paul, who said that not raising the debt limit could be reframed as “a pretty reasonable idea.” Even Senator Tom Coburn says it wouldn’t be so bad to miss the debt-limit deadline and face a “managed catastrophe.”

There’s now a right-wing echo chamber, shaped by Fox News Channel and Web sites like RedState, that repeats such nonsense until it acquires a patina of plausibility — and thus makes a catastrophe more difficult to avoid. A Pew Research Center poll this month found that 54 percent of Republicans believe that the United States can miss the debt-limit deadline without major problems.

What makes our trajectory dangerous is that the hard-liners are getting positive feedback. The most reliable Republican voters are about twice as likely to say that Congressional Republicans have compromised too much as to say that they haven’t compromised enough.

Hang on to your hat. We may be in for a wild ride.

I’ve often been curious about the wretched political leadership in America in the 1840s and 1850s in the run-up to the Civil War: How could American politicians have been so stubborn as they inched toward cataclysm? Watching today’s obstreperousness, I’m gaining a better insight.

Two features strike me about this moment — and both are echoes of the mistakes in the run-up to the Civil War. One is the obliviousness of central players, especially the Gang of 40, to the risks ahead.

The second is the way politicians seek leverage by brazenly threatening deliberate harm to the nation unless they get their way. The House Republican hard-liners lost their battle against Obamacare in the democratic process, just as President Obama lost his battle for an assault-weapons ban. But instead of accepting their loss as Obama did, members of the Gang of 40 took hostages. Unless Obamacare is defunded, they’ll cause billions of dollars in damage to the American economy.

The G.O.P. claims to be the party particularly concerned by budget deficits. Yet its tantrum caused a government shutdown that cost the country $1.6 billion last week alone.

As for the debt limit, the costs of missing that deadline could be infinitely greater. Already, interest rates are spiking for one-month Treasury bills to their highest levels since the 2008 financial crisis.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank, calculates that the 2011 debt-ceiling confrontation will, over a decade, cost American taxpayers an extra $18.9 billion.

And that was the price tag for a crisis in which the debt-limit deadline was eventually met. If this deadline is missed, the costs in higher interest rates in the years ahead will be billions more.

Members of the Gang of 40 are unwilling to pay for early childhood education, but they’re O.K. with paying untold billions for a government shutdown and debt-limit crisis? That’s not governance, but extremism.


By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 9, 2013

October 11, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Default, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moving The Grenade To The Other Hand”: John Boehner Wants To Keep One Hostage, Briefly Let The Other Go

Have you looked at the major Wall Street indexes this morning? As I type, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up over 200 points, and as a matter of percentage, the S&P and Nasdaq indexes are doing even better. After weeks in which stocks were on a downward trend, what caused the sudden spike?

Wall Street is now under the impression that congressional Republicans are not going to use the debt ceiling to crash the economy on purpose. This leads to a variety of questions, not the least of which is whether Wall Street’s exuberance is rational.

It may not be. Jane Timm reports from Capitol Hill:

On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner proposed a short-term debt ceiling increase — if President Obama will negotiate on opening the government.

That plan may be presented to Obama this afternoon, when a delegation of Republican negotiators will meet at the White House.

And this is where things start to get messy.

We talked earlier about the subtle shifts in the Republicans’ posture, as it slowly dawns on them that they’re losing the public; they won’t achieve their goals through extortion; and they need to find a way out of the trap they set and then promptly fell into.

So, Boehner and his team came up with a plan. They’ll let the government shutdown continue, but raise the debt ceiling for six weeks. In exchange for not crashing the economy on purpose, Democrats will have to agree to participate in budget negotiations.

Will Republicans agree to let the government reopen during the budget talks? No.

Will Republicans take the prospect of a debt-ceiling crisis off the table? No.

Is there any chance in the world Democrats will consider this a credible solution? No.

Indeed, it’s already been rejected.

The White House indicated that while the president might sign a short-term bill to avert default, it rejected the proposal as insufficient to begin negotiations over his health care law or further long-term deficit reductions because the plan does not address the measure passed by the Senate to finance and reopen the government.

“The president has made clear that he will not pay a ransom for Congress doing its job and paying our bills,” said a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Democratic appeal to Republicans can basically be summarized in a few words: Just do your job. The government needs to be funded, so fund it — without strings attached or a series of demands. The debt ceiling needs to be raised, so raise it — without demanding treats or taking hostages. At that point, the parties can enter negotiations on just about anything and everything.

But the GOP’s new “offer” is predicated on the same assumptions as the other “offers”: Republicans won’t talk unless the threat of deliberate harm hangs over the discussion. It’s effectively become the GOP’s prerequisite to every process: only plans involving hostages will be considered.

Indeed, why raise the debt ceiling for just six weeks? Either Republicans are prepared to hurt Americans on purpose or they’re not. This is either a threat or it isn’t. Boehner is willing to put the pin back in the grenade, but he wants Democrats to know he’s prepared to pull it again around Thanksgiving?

I suppose it’s evidence of some modicum of progress that GOP officials are looking for a new way out of this mess, but this new “plan” is hardly any more credible than the others.

I wish I could share in Wall Street’s excitement, but I don’t.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 10, 2013

October 11, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Obsession To Insanity”: The GOP Is Unhinged By Obamacare

Whacking yourself on the head with a ball-peen hammer would be stupid. But doing it again and again — that’s insane.

Welcome to your U.S. House of Representatives, presently led by a pack of Tea Party Republicans. They are so crazed by Obamacare that they repeatedly hammer themselves over the head with it, having voted 46 times (so far) to dismantle, defund, delay, deny, and otherwise destroy this landmark health care bill — all to no avail. They would be hilarious, were they not so pathetic.

But now, their anti-government, anti-Obama obsession has turned into insanity. Acting as though the USA is nothing more substantial than a banana republic, this Tea Party clique of petty potentates has forced a shutdown of our national government. The craziest part of their stunt is the duplicitous claim that finally providing health care for millions of uninsured Americans will have, as one leader of the mad-dog pack put it, “horrific effects.”

Yet, even as they publicly insist that they’re heroes for trying to save the people from the horror of receiving fairly decent health coverage, the GOP hierarchy is quietly warning its members that defeating Obamacare now is essential to their own health. Why? Because they know the program will work, providing better care and nearly universal coverage at a cheaper price. It will become widely popular, and any politico who tries to kill it later will become wildly unpopular. Even the senator from Oz, Ted Cruz, understood that the program had to be aborted before it was born. It will be so loved, Cruz candidly conceded (as he desperately tried to suffocate Obamacare with a painfully-long “filibuster”), that the public will be “hooked” on it for the long haul.

Yes, Sen. Oz, the American people tend to support policies that are beneficial to them. What’s crazy is you and your cohorts thinking they’re crazy for thinking that.

So now, Dr. Hightower offers this advice: Don’t fume about the GOP’s lunatic effort to kill health care reform — just laugh at their farcical show. It won’t affect them, but it can improve your mental health.

For starters, take Ted Cruz’s 21-hour blabathon that he said would stop Obamacare in its tracks. Not only did he fail spectacularly, but senators voted 100 to zero against his crazy ploy. Yes, that means that even he ended up voting against it! What a hoot he is.

A shameful hypocrite, too. While going to extremes to keep millions of Americans from getting vitally needed health coverage, Cruz goes to great lengths to keep the people from being reminded of his own health care, past and present.

Having been born in Calgary, Canada, little Ted’s parents were able to take advantage of the country’s universal health care, or as the Tea Party darlings like to call it, “socialized” medicine. That’s right, for the first four years of Ted’s life in Calgary, he was covered under government subsidized healthcare. I find it absolutely hysterical that little Ted would grow up to throw a 21-hour-long temper tantrum over affordable health care for hardworking American people. Recently, Cruz had been repeatedly refusing to answer whether taxpayers covered his health care. Finally, he piously responded that he was eligible for taxpayer coverage, but had nobly declined.

Such slapstick! It turns out that Ted was fibbing, for he’s covered by his wife’s policy. As a millionaire top executive at Goldman Sachs, she and her family are given gold-plated Cadillac coverage by the Wall Street giant. Goldman pays some $40,000 a year for her and Ted’s policy (more than most families make in a year) — a benefit-cost that the firm passes on to us taxpayers by deducting it from its corporate tax bill. Hilarious, huh?

Then there’s the comic twist that’s included in Congress’ current government shutdown. While more than a million regular government workers are going without a paycheck, the congresscritters who forced the furlough continue to collect their $174,000 in annual pay. Some lawmakers are donating their checks to charity, but four out of five are happily pocketing theirs. “Dang straight,” barked Rep. Lee Terry. “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college,” the Nebraska Republican said. “Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly,” Terry told his constituents.

And that’s your Congress at work. Laugh ’til it hurts.


By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 10, 2013

October 11, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Uninsured | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Double Play Game”: Do Republicans Believe In Their Own Crisis?

You would think Republicans would be the ones trying to scare the country about the imminent expiration of the Treasury’s borrowing authority. After all, they’re the ones trying to use the debt ceiling (and the government shutdown) as leverage to get their way on policies that would be laughed out of Washington at any other moment.

The leverage only works if the country is really worried about the potential economic catastrophe that would result from a failure to lift the ceiling. In the Republican fantasy, that would pressure Democrats to end health care reform, cut spending on entitlements and say farewell to all their liberal dreams.

But instead, the reverse is happening. It’s Democrats who are warning the country about the unimaginable consequences of default, and many Republicans who are minimizing it.

This phenomenon could be seen last week at the beginning of the shutdown, when right-wing lawmakers started pooh-poohing the effects of a closed government. Fox News called it a “slimdown,” and several House members said less government might be good for the country. Now, 10 days before (a potential) Default Day, several House members are deriding the notion that it would be a very big deal.

Senator Tom Coburn, flatly contradicting the clear explanation from the Treasury, said the country would continue to pay its interest and redeem bonds, so why worry? Mick Mulvaney, a congressman from South Carolina, repeated the well-known canard that the Treasury could prioritize its payments and that there would be no default.

And Ted Yoho of Florida, who is quickly replacing Steve King and Louie Gohmert as the congressman to whom reporters flock for the jaw-dropping quotes so beloved by Twitter, said that not raising the debt ceiling would actually be beneficial.

“I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke,” Mr. Yoho told the Washington Post. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”

If you think that remark is not only detached from reality but also utterly aberrant, take a look at the Pew Research poll that came out today. It shows that 54 percent of all Republicans (and 64 percent of Tea Partiers) believe the country can go past the debt-limit deadline without causing major problems. In that sense, Mr. Yoho better represents his party than Speaker John Boehner, who claims to believe that default would be terrible, but is nonetheless demanding concessions in exchange for preventing it.

That the very people who are causing the crisis are dismissing it shows the double game that’s being played here. Republicans don’t want the country to understand how big a threat they are posing to its well-being. A growing number of Americans already blame them for the whole mess, as the same poll shows. If people truly understood how bad a default would be — if they understood credit markets and interest rates, and how they would be affected by the global loss of faith in Treasury bonds — the anger would be much greater, and Republican control of the House would be threatened.

In the cynical game of spin and messaging that this crisis has become, the goal is to scare Washington Democrats while keeping ordinary people calm. It’s not working, though — Democrats have correctly refused to be intimidated, while businesses and average Americans are growing increasingly nervous. As they should be.


By: David Firestone, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 7, 2013

October 11, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Default, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Gumption Gap”: GOP Moderates Should Ditch Their Party

Over the next couple of weeks, the fate of, well, some pretty big things — the Republican Party, the American system of government, the global economy — rests with about 20 people: Republican members of the House who have said they favor a straight-up continuing resolution that funds the government. No re-litigating Obamacare, no scaling back Social Security — just a “clean” resolution that would leave those other conservative causes to be fought about on their merits some other day.

When those votes are added to those of the 200 House Democrats who have said they would support a clean resolution, that yields a narrow majority for ending the government shutdown. It is hard to believe that those GOP dissidents wouldn’t support raising the debt ceiling as well. If they’re not willing to hold the functioning of government hostage to the tea party’s demands, they’re not likely to hold the economy hostage, either.

But that’s a big “if.” While The Post counts 21 GOP House members who have declared themselves in favor of ending the shutdown by passing a clean resolution, most of them have done nothing to compel the House Republican leadership to allow such a vote.

They could, for example, publicly declare their intention to join House Democrats in signing a discharge petition that would eventually force such a vote. They could privately declare that intent to House Speaker John Boehner, leaving him either to accede to such a vote or have it forced upon him. These center-right Republicans, however, have not indicated that they are willing to cross that Rubicon.

There is a simple explanation for their reluctance: Such action would surely result in serious primary challenges in 2014, when all the internal dynamics of today’s Republican Party would be working against them. The gerrymandering of congressional districts has made them safe for radical conservatives. The rise of the right that has marginalized the party nationally and driven moderates from its ranks has made the remaining handful of center-right incumbents exquisitely vulnerable to tea party challengers.

That, in turn, has created a strategic asymmetry within the House Republican caucus. The tea party faction, which by most estimates includes about 40 members, wields vast power over the leadership and the caucus, while the center-right contingent wields zilch. Both factions have enough votes to block legislation backed by the House leadership if the Democrats also vote against it, but it has been tea partyers, not centrist-moderates, who have used that veto power. Unlike their tea party counterparts, the center-right members lack gumption and imagination.

The gumption gap is understandable;unlike the Republican radicals, the moderates fear primary challenges next year. But there is a way to avoid Republican primary challenges, though it would take a leap of political imagination. To vote his beliefs and duck that challenge, all a center-right Republican has to do is declare himself an independent.

This is hardly a course to be taken lightly. It entails the loss of congressional seniority and would cause rifts with friends and allies. It requires considerable explanation to one’s constituents. There is no guarantee of reelection.

But others have taken this course and survived — most recently, former senator Joseph Lieberman, who, when he lost Connecticut’s Democratic Senate primary in 2006, reconfigured himself an independent and won reelection. Many of the House members tagged as supporters of a clean resolution, such as New York’s Peter King and Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent, come from districts in the Northeast that aren’t as rabidly right as some in the Sunbelt. Others, such as Virginia’s Scott Rigell and Frank Wolf, come from districts with large numbers of federal employees, who almost surely are not entranced by the tea party’s anti-government jihad.

Leaving Republican ranks would not mean joining the Democrats. The ideological gap between GOP dissidents and the Democratic Party is huge. But the center-right dissidents are being willfully blind if they can’t see that the ideological gap between them and the tea-party-dominated GOP is also vast.

If they truly believe that government by hostage-taking is no way to run a democracy, they shouldn’t have too much trouble defending their defection. They could argue that their party has been transformed into a closed sect that can never win a national majority, or that it has descended into a hysteria that has run roughshod over such conservative values as prudence and balance, not to mention a modicum of strategic sense.

They could dub themselves Independent Republicans or True Republicans. They could tell their constituents that they put the interests of the nation above those of their party. If that’s not a winning argument in a swing district, Lord only knows what is.

Of course, these dissident Republicans could always stay and fight. But by staying and not fighting — their current course of inaction — they abet the very tea party takeover they dread.

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 9, 2013

October 11, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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