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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

“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

   

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