The bad and the ugly

Unfortunately, there is little “good” in the current dispute over raising the federal debt limit, just “bad” and “ugly,” even though nearly everyone understands the U.S. debt limit must be increased or we will risk even greater harm to our struggling economy.

Sadly, both sides are playing fast and loose with the truth, and it’s difficult for Joe and Jane Citizen to know what to believe.

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he “couldn’t guarantee” that Social Security checks will continue to be mailed to seniors if the debt limit is not raised by Aug. 3. It’s an obvious scare tactic because most political leaders acknowledge there are other places the U.S. Treasury can cut if the government borrowing limit isn’t raised, before it delays any Social Security or other entitlement payments. It did so in the 1990s debt-limit standoff.

Meanwhile, some Republicans have held out the fictitious notion that a balanced-budget amendment could be made a part of any debt-ceiling agreement, even though they know there are not enough votes in the Senate to secure passage of such an amendment. It’s political pabulum, not reality.

For their part, some Democrats push the equally unserious notion that they can win approval of major new tax increases on the rich, such as a millionaire’s surcharge. It’s not going to happen, given the current GOP control of the House.

But many of those House Republicans, backed by tea party types and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, have drawn a line in the sand opposing any revenue increases, even if they come from eliminating dubious tax credits and deductions rather than raising tax rates. Preventing any revenue increase appears more important to them than the fiscal wreckage that could occur if the debt ceiling is not raised.

With that view in mind, House Speaker John Boehner was forced to publicly recant any support he might have implied for revenue increases, to avoid the wrath of the anti-tax crowd and the uncompromising position of his supposed second in command, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

This despite the fact that Boehner was in the process of hammering out a deal with Obama that would have met most of the goals Republicans claim to seek, including cutting the deficit by nearly double what Democrats were previously willing to accept. But, because that plan included revenue increases, it was shot down.

Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed a complicated plan that would allow the president to raise the debt limit in increments over the next year and a half — thus forestalling the potential catastrophe of this country defaulting on its debts — while allowing Republicans to vote against the increases. It is a cynical plan that is clearly aimed at allowing the debt to increase, but giving the GOP a political advantage in the 2012 elections.

McConnell’s reward for offering this plan has been criticism from fellow conservatives in the Senate, and pummeling by tea party types in the blogosphere for allegedly selling out the GOP.

There is nothing pretty, and little good, in any of these actions. They amount largely to elbowing, shoving and body checking by those involved as each political faction seeks to gain the most advantage before the inevitable occurs — some sort of agreement to raise the debt limit.


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