Tag Archives: lunatic caucus

My Obligatory Rant About the Debt Ceiling

Okay–I’m sure that readers of this blog are well aware of the current threat by the usual suspects to hold the debt limit hostage in order to get concessions on spending from the administration and the Democrats in Congress.

I’m also sure that most of those readers understand what the debt limit actually is–unlike the intended targets of the crazies’ messaging.  America’s debt ceiling does not authorize spending–it authorizes government to borrow funds as necessary to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized. (That’s why the GOP obediently voted to raise it during the Trump administration–even though the Trump tax cuts significantly increased the deficit and thus the amount to be borrowed.)

Here’s an analogy: you went shopping and maxed out your credit card. The bill from the credit card company comes due, and your spouse says “We aren’t paying it until you agree to [whatever].” You either accede to the whatever, or destroy your credit rating, find yourself unwelcome in the places you shop, and incur higher interest rates in the few places that still accept your business.

In 2011, when Republicans last played this game, the delay in raising the limit caused a  downgrade of U.S. Treasury debt, raising government borrowing costs by $18.9 billion over ten years.

If the GOP’s  current game of chicken succeeds–if America fails to pay the bills Congress has previously racked up–the country (and globe) would descend into recession, Social Security and Medicare payments would stop, federal workers, soldiers and defense contractors wouldn’t be paid… And you could kiss your tax refund goodby.

The U.S. is one of only two countries requiring a separate vote to raise the debt limit–most countries understand that a vote to spend X on program Y implicitly authorizes payment even if funds need to be borrowed. For many years, rational lawmakers in both parties routinely raised the limit.

Since “rational” no longer describes most GOP lawmakers, what should the administration do? I’ll let Paul Krugman answer that question.

Krugman  warns that “it’s not even clear that the Biden administration could surrender if it wanted to.”

The current crop of House Republicans makes the Tea Party, which (alas) used the debt limit to blackmail President Barack Obama, look reasonable. Today’s G.O.P. doesn’t even seem to have a coherent set of demands; a significant number of caucus members may well want a crisis, preferring to “watch the world burn” under a Democratic administration.

If surrender isn’t an option, what is?

Democrats could seek a “discharge petition” to force a vote on raising the debt limit despite opposition from G.O.P. leaders. This would both take time and require support from a handful of sane Republican House members. But it’s surely worth trying.

Second, it’s probably possible to use financial engineering to bypass the debt limit. The most famous proposal calls for minting a platinum coin with a face value of, say, $1 trillion, depositing that coin with the Federal Reserve and spending out of the bank account thus created. Believe it or not, this would almost certainly be legal.

Another option would involve raising money by issuing “premium bonds” when existing debts come due — bonds whose face value is the same as that of the bonds they replace, so that they don’t officially increase the debt, but offer high interest rates, so they sell for much more than their notional value.

Krugman also points to language in the 14th Amendment providing that “the validity of public debt shall not be questioned,” and suggests that language might be construed as authorizing the government to ignore the debt ceiling rather than defaulting on payments.

Which option should Democrats pursue? I’d say all of them. Above all, this is no time for officials to worry about seeming silly or undignified. The Biden administration is facing the threat of economic terrorism — that sounds extreme, but it’s basically what creating an artificial debt crisis amounts to. And it should do whatever it takes to face down that threat.

So–what now? The Treasury department is ramping up what it calls “extraordinary measures” to avoid default, but without a resolution, the country will stop being able to pay its bills sometime around June 5th.

Even if the administration was willing to “negotiate,”  Republicans cannot seem to agree on what it is they want. In yet another demonstration of their lack of discipline (and in many cases, sanity), several on the far Right are insisting on cuts to Social Security and Medicare, while others are focused on cutting the Defense budget. 

And what, you might ask, about the “moderate” members of the GOP? That’s easy: there aren’t any. Bret Stephens was right-– today’s GOP consists only of reptiles and invertebrates.

Stay tuned….

The Party’s Over

Okay. I was waiting for the spectacle to conclude before commenting on the ongoing sh*t show in the House of Representatives, but I can no longer restrain myself. 

Let me begin with points made by observers more astute and informed than I am.

After day one, Robert Reich wrote that we are witnessing the “mindless hostility of a political party that’s lost any legitimate reason for being. For all practical purposes, the Republican party is over.”  

The party line became confused, its message garbled, its purpose unclear. It thereby created an opening for a third and far angrier phase, centering on resentment and authoritarianism…

Today’s Republican base is fueling hate. It is the epicenter of an emerging anti-democracy movement.

What we are seeing played out today in the contest for the speakership of the House involves all of these phases – what remains of the small-government establishment, the cultural warriors and the hate-filled authoritarians – engaged in hopeless, hapless combat with each other.

In the Washington Post, Matt Bai focused on McCarthy’s multiple deficits.

During the Boehner era, which now seems like some distant eon when woolly mammoths roamed the Earth, the future of the Republican Party was said to belong to three of his younger colleagues. They called themselves the “young guns,” but a better metaphor now would be the three little pigs.

The pigs were Cantor, Ryan and McCarthy. The first two left when the “MAGA wolf” blew their houses down.

Unlike the other two, who got by on guile and smarts, McCarthy’s gift was his easy charm. No one was going to mistake him for a Mensa candidate, but he was fun and flexible.

If McCarthy emerges with the title by ceding effective control to the crazies, he will  be neutered.  As Bai points out, appeasement of extremists never works . Acquiescence to irrational demands just encourages more irrational demands.

As McCarthy’s humiliation continued through day two, Reed Galen of the Lincoln Project wrote (no link)

This is not a clash of ideals on what kind of tax policy or health care is best for our country. It is a bare-knuckle brawl for power – and given Democratic control of the White House and Senate, all the GOP can do is cause chaos — it is a brawl that is not going to end well for America.

Do you, reading this email, think letting Lauren Boebert fire the Speaker on a whim is a good idea? What about letting MTG, Gaetz, and others have their own private lawsuit power? That’s what the crazies are asking for in their “negotiations.” Not policy. Not representing their constituents. Personal power to take this thing off a cliff and try to hang it around Joe Biden’s neck.

If there is any doubt about that desire to take America off a cliff, one holdout was  quoted as saying he wouldn’t vote for McCarthy without a commitment to shut the government down rather than raise the debt ceiling. He defined that commitment as “a non-negotiable item.”  If that isn’t insanity, it’s a close relative. 

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has observed that–while every Republican Congressperson isn’t the same as Jim Jordan or Matt Gaetz– virtually all of them rely on a coalition of voters that supports Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz. Today’s GOP is a “balkanized party made up of elected officials who either are Jim Jordan or aren’t willing to cross Jim Jordan.”

As if the chaos, dysfunction and sheer insanity on display aren’t worrisome enough, Robert Hubbell has highlighted an even more ominous development

McCarthy made a smidgen of progress that may have secured an additional vote or two on Wednesday evening. But that progress came at a deeply disturbing cost that should concern every American. The details of the agreement negotiated by McCarthy are complicated and obscure—deliberately so because they involve a “treaty” between two dark money PACs that fund GOP candidates for the House. The fact that the election of a constitutional officer—the Speaker of the House—is being brokered by dark money PACs is an insult to the rule of law and an open wound on democracy…

To use a technical term, the agreement “stinks to high Heaven.” 

At the end of day three, it turned out that even this unprecedented intervention by the GOP’s dark money donors wasn’t enough to move the lunatic caucus. As I write this, there have been eleven votes, and the House still has no Speaker. 

Disarray is too mild a description. We are watching the death throes of an American political party. The question now is: what comes next?


Despicable and Inexcusable

When I sat down to write about yesterday’s vote in the U.S. House, I discovered that Paul Waldman had beaten me to it, with a column so detailed and scorching that there is no way I could equal it.

Waldman titled his piece “Every Republican Who Voted for this Abomination Must be Held Accountable.” His words fairly sizzle on the screen–and for good reason.

I won’t mince words. The health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed this afternoon, in an incredibly narrow 217-to-213 vote, is not just wrong, or misguided, or problematic or foolish. It is an abomination. If there has been a piece of legislation in our lifetimes that boiled over with as much malice and indifference to human suffering, I can’t recall what it might have been. And every member of the House who voted for it must be held accountable.

Waldman starts with process criticisms: the GOP passed this bill without holding  a single hearing on it. They were desperate to hold the vote before the Congressional Budget Office could issue a report describing its effects. Hardly anyone had an opportunity to read the damn thing. And as Waldman points out, “all this despite the fact that they are remaking one-sixth of the American economy and affecting all of our lives.”

In contrast, the Affordable Care Act (which Republicans constantly claim was “rammed through”) was debated for an entire year and was the subject of dozens of hearings.

Waldman notes that every major stakeholder organization vocally opposed this bill:  the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and on and on.

But then he gets to the horrifying details. Quoting from his exhaustively researched article:

  • Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.
  • Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.
  • Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.
  • Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.
  • Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.
  • Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients.
  • Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.
  • Produces higher deductibles for patients.
  • Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.
  • Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.
  • Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.

One significant item Waldman’s list omits: the measure also defunds Planned Parenthood.

Every single Indiana Republican voted to do this to the American public and the citizens of Indiana.

I expected those votes from Rokita, Walorski, Banks and Bucshon, and I’m disappointed but not surprised by Messer and “Tennessee Trey.” But I am disgusted by Susan Brooks, because I’ve known her a long time; unlike her colleagues, she’s highly intelligent–and she knows better. I’ve watched her abandon integrity in vote after vote (during her first two years, her voting record was virtually indistinguishable from that of Michelle Bachmann.) I’ve watched her hide from her constituents during the recent Congressional recess. And now, I’ve watched her obediently vote with the lunatic caucus of her party for legislation that is not only absolutely indefensible, but will disproportionately harm women. It makes me physically ill.

Again, Waldman says it best:

Perhaps this bill will never become law, and its harm may be averted. But that would not mitigate the moral responsibility of those who supported it. Members of Congress vote on a lot of inconsequential bills and bills that have a small impact on limited areas of American life. But this is one of the most critical moments in recent American political history. The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days.

If Hoosiers (and other Americans) don’t begin working right now to defeat every single Representative who voted for this cynical assault on decency and basic humanity, we deserve what we get.