The Washington kabuki

It’s playing out just as any predictable, poorly-written melodrama might, these “negotiations” to raise the federal debt ceiling and avert a national economic emergency, particularly when the play is performed by such transparent and ham-handed actors.

As expected, yesterday the Senate refused to go along with the House bill to cut government spending and pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution (which even National Review’s Rich Lowry is against); it was thought this might provide the cover for enough Republicans to be able to say that they had done their best to comply with Tea Party demands but now had to vote for a debt ceiling hike to avert a crisis, but we haven’t seen that start so far.  Then, Speaker Boehner dramatically announced he was “abandoning” his negotiations with President Obama and laid all the blame on him for not giving in to the no-tax-hike meme…before he announced he would continue negotiating.  Obama says Boehner’s rejected a plan with less tax increases than what the Gang of Six proposed earlier in the week, and he’s called for more negotiations this weekend, while Senate leaders are trying to revive the scheme to let the president raise the debt ceiling without members of Congress having to cast an approving and politically-dicey vote.

Politically dicey?  Yes, for the many Republicans in the House more worried about getting a Tea Party-ish challenger in next year’s primary election than they are about the United States defaulting on its debts.  How’s that for statesmanship?

(Check out the letter Boehner sent to House Republicans on Friday, and expect to see/hear the verbiage again in campaign ads.)

So they talk this weekend, and come out of the talks to stand in front of the microphones and say predictable things.  I feel pretty confident they will come up with some way to beat the deadline and raise the debt ceiling to prevent default, even if they don’t tie it to spending cuts or increased revenue (which isn’t necessary—these are separate albeit related issues).  But I wish they would take advantage of the opportunity now to take some action on spending and revenue, because that’s going to have to be addressed and sooner would be better than later.  David Brooks thinks so, too, arguing that “Standing still is not an option.”

Doing nothing could lead to default and the end of American economic supremacy. The compromise put together by Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, that’s been floating around is a ploy to evade responsibility. Punting with some small package would spook the markets and reflect dishonor on yourself.


You do it because you know the political climate will be worse for a deal in 2013. If you’re a Republican, you know Obama might win re-election, and even if the G.O.P. swept everything, you know your party wouldn’t have the guts to cut entitlements unilaterally (that’s why the cut, cap and balance bill didn’t mention the specific programs that would face the ax). If you’re a Democrat, you know Obama might lose, and, even if he doesn’t, the Senate will likely tilt rightward.

Mostly you do it because you want to live in a country than can govern itself.


…this is the next step in the journey toward economic health.

3 thoughts on “The Washington kabuki

  1. I’m also against the Balanced Budget Amendment. The Constitution expressly tells the federal government what its responsibilities are and the Fed has way overstepped it’s purview…has since the early teens starting with Woodrow Wilson and again taken up by FDR to continue expansion of the federal government taking over responsibilities of the state and local governments. Unfortunately, our parents and us have let the country get this way through apathy and disregard for the basic tenets of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Hell, I don’t even think they teach it in school anymore.

    The GOP and Democrats both know that we have to curtail spending. But the Dems are fighting to keep the spending cuts down while the GOP want more extensive cuts. The Dems want to raise taxes or cut out some subsidies, which is a tax increase if you think about it, during this recession. Do you really think that’s a good idea? What would really help, if you want to know the truth, is for the Fed to relax or do away with some of the onerous regulations that have sprung up since Obama took office. Most of these bad regulations have been made without going through Congress, but by executive fiat. And yes, GWB did a few boners, too.

    What it boils down to is that Obamacare, onerous EPA and DOE regulations, uncertainty of any new tax increases is making it hard for the companies that do have capital to invest, hold their money until the air clears. That’s my take on it anyway.

    Mike G.

    1. Right now, I think the issue is one thing: the debt ceiling. While we need action on spending and on taxes, I agree, Congress doesn’t have to do anything about them right this red hot minute. But if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling in time to prevent the government from defaulting on its obligations, the economy will be left in such a state that recent discussions about taxes and entitlements will become quaint reminders of a better day. Congress first needs to prevent a completely preventable crisis; if it does so in combination with changes to spending and/or revenue, that’s great, but first things first.

      Thanks for the comment.

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