Category Archives: the debt ceiling

American Government: Now a Spectator Sport


Here we are, back at that place we keep getting to that we don’t like, which is the one where the Republicans use the purse strings to control the political agenda (or at least they try). They have made sure that Americans have heard almost nothing good about the Affordable Health Care Act and that has been easy for them since it does not even start to show its true colors until January of 2014.

Controlling Kings and Queens by pulling the strings on the purse was always common, whenever the power of the purse and the actual power did not reside in the same person. But America is not ruled by a King or a Queen; it is supposed to be ruled by the people. In the case of America, the President has the power to execute the laws passed by the people as represented by the Congress. But Congress has power over the purse strings. This power is usually wielded lightly, but theoretically can be used to force less spending or more spending as the people or circumstances direct. But traditionally, it has not been used the way Republicans have been using it since Obama was elected.


The continuing resolution is not generally used as a bargaining chip because if Congress does not continue to fund the government then the government shuts down and this is not at all desirable. After that Congress is required to look at our debt ceiling and decide whether or not it needs to be raised, which it generally does. Waiting until the actual deadline for raising the debt ceiling arrives before insisting on budget rewrites is not considered good politics as really good budget cutting does not usually happen in times of stress. Budget cutting needs to be done in a considered fashion and there are committees designed to do just that. We expect our government to use brain power and negotiation, not threats and insults.

In 2013 we are facing the unthinkable; we are facing a forced showdown which is shockingly un-American because it flaunts the Constitutional process in order to try to erase a law that is an actual law of our nation, a law which was supported by the Supreme Court (without enthusiasm, but still supported). I do not believe that the America people want to go back to the health care system we had before the ACA, which did not cover legions of Americans and left Americans at the mercy of private, for-profit insurance companies. The argument is being twisted by Republicans to say that Democrats are to blame if the government shuts down because they won’t give up Obamacare (as they call the ACA). This is obviously semantics and does not change who is actually trying to defund the ACA and willing to shut down the government to do it.

What I am not sure about is whether the media should be spending so much time discussing this disgraceful behavior and making it somewhat legitimate and very exciting. Of course, the media is not about steering political policy; it is about ratings. This kind of suspense is intoxicating. Will the government shut down? Who will blink (how old are we)? Will Obama abandon the ACA? (please don’t Obama) What will happen if America shuts down?

This is not a spectator sport. We are not in the Roman Coliseum watching the slaves or the Christians fight tigers for their freedom, although this is about as close as we get to that outside sports arenas. This is our nation. Are the Tea Partiers the only people who have strong feelings about what America wants? If this is true then we will deserve what we get, but I don’t think we will like it much. Maybe the media should find some way to stop turning the Republican “nutburgers” into the tigers who will vanquish the slave (oops, that would make them racists) make that the “weak” President who seems to be all on his own without the will of the people behind him, even though he was elected by a majority of the popular vote. Does the President have to get re-elected every day? That’s ridiculous and no way to run a country.

 Perhaps the media could find a new way to present the upcoming battles over the purse strings, to at least present these rogue legislators in an even more negative light than we have so far heard. Perhaps the people, who don’t agree with Obama in every way, but who do not like the way Republicans are subverting their power over the purse strings could find some way to let their displeasure be heard. Maybe I am wrong and the public does not want the ACA and does not mind if America destroys its credit so that the minority party can have its way. I, however, am disgusted by the behavior of these people who are trying to pull off what amounts to a political coup. Let’s go back to structured government that abides by tried and tested rules and which does not lead America to the brink of disaster over and over again.

Done Celebrating

I am done celebrating because, as all admit, it was only one victory in a long list of issues that must be decided. I am done celebrating because the pundits tell us that Presidents can’t accomplish much in their first term because they have to keep an eye on getting reelected and they can’t do much in their second term because everyone knows they are on their way out. I find this a very depressing attitude and it is one of the reasons that I advocate amending the Constitution so we only have a Presidential election every eight years. Although this would probably kill Wolf Blitzer on CNN, who seems to live only for the hoopla of a perpetual election cycle, we should still give it serious consideration. Wolf is already trying to engage in speculation about who will run in 2016 with every interviewee he can corner. This kind of fast forward election express makes actually governing look dull and we need to get more excited about day-to-day governance and watching a President create his legacy to the American people.

I am done celebrating because we did not get rid of the ubiquitous Grover Norquist. He has given the Republicans dispensation for what looks like a tax increase but is actually not. He does this on the basis of a technicality. Since nothing happened by midnight on December 31stGrover tells us that we had already reverted to the taxes as they were before the Bush tax cuts so the taxes went up by default. He tells us that what the Republicans ended up doing was lowering taxes for most Americans and leaving them the same for those above the $400,000/$450,000 levels because the timing of the vote had already caused those higher tax limits to kick in without a vote. So based on this technicality the pledge is still in force, Grover Norquist lives to fight another day on behalf of a teeny-tiny federal government and no Republicans will suffer for their vote on the teeny-tiny revenue plan with all the attached special bequests to groups with strong lobbies in Washington. Whew, isn’t dispensation fine!

In return for a victory which was hardly a stunning loss to Republicans, the GOP has vowed revenge. They insist that they will block Obama at every turn and that they would rather ruin the American economy than raise the debt ceiling again. Raising the debt ceiling was always a given, but now that the GOP feels that they own the House, they continue to use the debt ceiling as a dangerous bargaining chip. This behavior should outrage Americans far more than the Tea Partiers are outraged about the missing cuts in the recently passed tax bill. We have a new Congress, can we hope for a new era of cooperation? To go from a very large government to a very small government cold turkey is not realistic or desirable. Even if we do get bullied into downsizing government it will have to happen in stages. There are excellent reasons to compromise and take baby steps. There are no excellent reasons to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. In fact it is one of those positions which I would consider treasonous because it puts private interests above the best interests of America.