Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Perpetual Dysfunction: How Republicans Govern

"nothing is unthinkable anymore"

Nice piece by Eugene Robinson

President Obama is set to begin his second term at a moment when the question is not what great things our nation can achieve but whether our government, in Obama’s words, can “stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis.”

The jury is out, but continued dysfunction seems the most likely scenario. Obama’s news conference on Monday—his last scheduled encounter with White House reporters before Inauguration Day—was a tutorial in low expectations. 

Obama devoted his opening remarks to the latest unnecessary crisis: the threat by Republicans in Congress to refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling. Such action, or inaction, would be “a self-inflicted wound on the economy,” Obama said.

That’s an understatement. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would in fact be a catastrophe, putting the faith and credit of the U.S. government in doubt and destabilizing a global financial system in which the dollar is the benchmark currency. 

Congress has a long history of playing politics with the debt ceiling—even Obama once voted against an increase when he was a senator—but there was always the understanding that in the end, the needed increase would be approved. It was unthinkable that the country would actually default on its obligations.

But nothing is unthinkable anymore. House Republicans are threatening to force a default unless the president agrees to further spending cuts. Obama vowed Monday that Republicans “will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.”

Obama flatly ruled out two scenarios that have been proposed as ways for him to raise the debt limit without approval by Congress—invoking an obscure clause in the 14th Amendment, or, more fancifully, minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. “There are no magic tricks here,” he said. “There are no loopholes. There are no easy outs.”

But he did appear to leave one door slightly ajar. Raising the debt ceiling has nothing to do with future spending; it merely provides the funds for expenditures Congress has already approved. Obama noted that if Congress fails to act, it will have given him two conflicting orders: Spend a specific amount of money on specific programs, but do not obtain the funds to make this spending possible. Some scholars have suggested Obama just declare that the instruction to spend outweighs the instruction not to borrow, and then let the Supreme Court eventually sort things out. See full commentary.

It's good that Obama is finally recognizing what the Republicans are trying to do. Unfortunately the President started this effort a little late (talking directly to the American people, educating/informing citizens about the debt ceiling and budget, acknowledging the hostage taking strategy of the Republicans). He should have been engaging in this months back, during the Spring and Fall of 2012. But even with that, he is only acknowledging half of the issue. Yes...the Republicans are holding the country hostage.... but I wish he would delve into why. The fact is, this Congress is motivated by more than just fiscal or political ideology. Race and intolerance is playing some role. Republicans want to create the idea that chaos is what you get when you have a Black President.

Congressman Jim McDermott got to the point on the January 14th edition of The Ed Show when he said that Republicans "want to make the President look as if he can't run the Country... that's the bottom line". (See Video). This is the other half of the issue that Obama has not acknowledged.

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