1+1=2, water is wet, and default is bad

Some good news for those in the reality-based community following the debt ceiling discussions in Washington: House Republican leaders are getting their head-in-the-sand brethren prepared to do the responsible thing and vote for a debt ceiling increase.  Amid reports of continuing private negotiating sessions—which, frankly, is how the negotiating should be done—Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan explained to the Republican conference the realities of what would happen if the U.S. government were to default on its loan payments, and it appears to have worked with some of them:

“He said if we pass Aug. 2, it would be like ‘Star Wars,'” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a freshman from Tennessee. “I don’t think the people who are railing against raising the debt ceiling fully understand that.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not wanting to raise the debt ceiling, with wishing it weren’t necessary; but there’s everything wrong with refusing to do it, with denying the overwhelming evidence that it will lead to serious economic problems for most of the country, because you’re trying to prove the validity of a discredited economic theory.  Extremists have co-opted the once-proud name of “Republican Party” to pursue their radical ends with some cover of respectability, and every one of us who didn’t do enough to shine the light of reason on their goals and tactics must take part of the blame for their current power.

Paul Krugman put some perspective on this in a column this week:

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades.

(snip)

As The Times’s Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers — in fact, if anything, they’re a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!

Yet Republicans are saying no. Indeed, they’re threatening to force a U.S. default, and create an economic crisis, unless they get a completely one-sided deal. And this was entirely predictable.

(snip)

Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts.

(snip)

Recently, however, all restraint has vanished — indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue — a claim completely at odds with the evidence — and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

(snip)

…those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.

(snip)

…there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.

I hope the report of House leadership having a “come to Jesus” meeting with the GOP conference is a sign that there is still some responsibility and rationality there that can be accessed to do what’s right for everyone.

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Grand Old Party, or Grumpy Old Protesters

President Obama hosts another Big Budget Meeting tomorrow at the White House with a deadline looming for raising the nation’s debt ceiling to keep the country from defaulting on its loan payments, and both political parties are acting as if they’re serious now.  (Now?  Yeah, now…finally, now.)  Republicans, who’ve been spurred in part if not entirely by tea party pressure, have been very tough in the negotiations, demanding that Democrats agree to trillions of dollars in spending cuts and no tax increases in return for the votes to increase the debt ceiling.  Sounds like the Republicans have won this round, doesn’t it?

Columnist David Brooks makes a very good case that the GOP has wrought amazing concessions from Democrats on the economy, spending cuts and debt reduction, and that if it takes what’s been offered it will be good for the country, set a new starting point for future negotiations on more cuts, and be a significant political victory for Republicans to campaign on in 2012.  But he also warns that if they don’t agree soon, people will have good reason to wonder if the GOP has ceased to be a political party capable of governing and turned finally into a mere protest movement that has a “no tax hike” fetish—even when the effective tax rate in this country is now the lowest it’s been since 1950!  The long-time conservative idea man is worried that no-tax-hike-ers threaten the future of his party:

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms…The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities…The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency…The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.

(snip)

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

That makes sense to me, and I hope it makes sense to everyone, even the very fanatics that Brooks warns about.  The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait praises Brooks’ column for its emperor-has-no-clothes statement about GOP radicalism, and assigning all of the blame to “Republicans” who would stand in the way of shrinking government, who would cripple the economy and emasculate the recovery, just to make a point.  Something for all of us to keep in mind, as the clock tick-tick-ticks down to possible, and completely avoidable, national default.

I really don’t want to have to hear all this right now

I mean, this is June…June 2011, right?  Almost 17 months before the 2012 election?  I find that I grow fatigued already with the attention being paid to the early stages of the Republican Party’s presidential contest (I would be fatigued with the attention to the Democratic Party’s contest right now, too, if there was one).  There’s too much time before the election, and too much opportunity for things to happen—to change—for me to believe I’ve got to lock in to a candidate right now.  Yet the drone of activity continues.

It now seems clear that Rick Perry’s made up his mind to run for president.  Fine.  (I’ve been fighting off an imagined letter explaining his strategy, but I don’t know if I can fight it forever.)  One reason the Perry prospectus is positive is that the Newt Gingrich political brain trust that quit on him earlier this month was a bunch of Perry people, so they’re now available, if asked, to work on the makeover of yet another Texas governor into a national leader.  (Wasn’t the last one we sent you enough for a while?)  Gingrich says that was just a difference of opinion about how to run a campaign…wonder what his reasoning is today to explain his major fundraisers also calling it quits?

There’s been some consideration lately that perhaps Michele Bachmann is not so out of the mainstream after all; this is disturbing, too, and appears to be true to the extent that the mainstream is no longer where it once was.

But there was some not-disheartening news today in the stories on Jon Huntsman’s announcement of his candidacy for president.  He was able to make the point that he believes himself to be the best person for the job without resorting to irrational and hysterical (and untrue) accusations about President Obama.  No ominous warnings about socialism, or death panels, or usurpers and traitors, or even accusations that he doesn’t love his own dog.

“He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love,” Mr. Huntsman said of Mr. Obama. “But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”

I don’t really want to be undergoing a presidential election right now, in the same way that I really don’t want to be undergoing a colonoscopy right now.  If I must, though, I could get used to one that sounded like that; on the other hand, I’m far too used to the sound of Americans’ religious bigotry showing its resilience, as it did again today.