Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ready, Fire, Aim

Okay, it’s here: Armageddon. No, not the Armageddon that, according to resident prophecy lunatic and Family Radio hack Brother Harold Camping, is supposed to occur on May 21st of this year; nor the Armageddon that the Mayans forecasted for 2012. This Armageddon is real and it’s less than a week away.

Mark down May 16th on your calendar. That’s D-day, with the D standing for Debt Ceiling. On that day, the United States will reach its official debt limit, which is $14.294 trillion. According to the law, one of two things must happen: Either the ceiling must be raised or the government will default on its debt. There are no other choices. Sure the Treasury Department can initiate emergency “band-aid” measures to keep the government operating until July or maybe even August, but don’t kid yourself. Once we pass May 16th, the message we send to the rest of the world will have profound consequences for all concerned. And in the likely event that that occurs, get your mattress ready and stuff as much money as you can into it. You’re going to need it.

There’s no way to dance around this. Defaulting on the debt would be catastrophic for the United States’ and world markets. It would plunge the globe into an economic tailspin that would make the last recession look like a bad hair day. To even suggest, as John Boehner did, that raising the debt ceiling without getting significant reductions in spending would be more irresponsible than allowing the nation to default on its debt, goes above and beyond mere political rhetoric; it’s the height of irresponsibility. Either Boehner simply doesn’t understand the ramifications of a default, or he knows full well what it means and he’s banking on winning this sick game of Russian Roulette with Democrats.

I’m banking on the latter, for the simple reason that, unlike so many other House Republicans – especially the Tea Party freshmen – Boehner may be an ideologue, but he isn’t mad. He may want “significant” cuts in spending, but he isn’t willing to destroy the country and most of the planet to get them. The problem for Boehner is that most of his caucus doesn’t drink from the same fountain as he. To them the debt ceiling issue is just a rouse by the White House and Congressional Democrats to frighten the public and further their “radical agenda.”

So when Boehner said this past Monday in New York that “without significant spending cuts and reform to reduce our debt, there will be no debt limit increase,” he may have only been attempting to gain the needed political leverage for the bigger fight over the 2012 budget and in the process pander to a base that has grown increasingly uneasy with his leadership, the real problem for him is that that very same base neither understands the game of politics nor is desirous of a compromise that both Parties’ leaderships realize will have to be made for a deal to be struck. Remember, these are the same Republicans who shouted “shut it down” over the last round of budget talks.

The real danger is that by attempting to feather his nest with his base, Boehner could box himself into a corner whereby, even if he gets Democrats to budge a little and make concessions on further spending cuts, he still may not have the necessary votes in the House to actually get the ceiling raised. Remember, Democrats only control 193 seats, and one of those seats is held by Gabby Giffords. Assuming that all Democrats are on board, Boehner will need 26 votes from his own party. Given their current mindset, that will be a tall order. That’s the problem with pandering to the irrational. They fear the unreal threats and are oblivious to the legitimate ones.

And that’s why I am growing increasingly dubious that a deal can be struck, for the simple reason that the Tea Party element, which now controls the vast majority of the Republican Party, wants no part of any deal, even if it means averting a catastrophe of epic proportions. With a fragile economy limping along, the prospects for a double dip recession, or worse, loom as a distinct and real probability.

Be afraid; be very afraid.

No comments: