From the perspective of one who believes in slashing the size and scope of government by biblical proportions, literally, the current government “shutdown” and looming debt ceiling impasses are an interesting social experiment. National Parks are closed, and NASA is grounded, for a start.
While many are bemoaning the event as a tragedy, and lamenting large numbers like 800,000 government “workers” furloughed, I personally think it is nothing more than that: a start. A baby step, even. I certainly don’t feel uneasy because 800,000 federal bureaucrats are out of the way, although their employment did keep a good number of vampires off the streets.
The ensuing media project has faulted conservatives for holding the nation “hostage” over the allegedly futile crusade to defund Obamacare. It has highlighted a complaint from Obama that, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the debt limit has never been used ‘to extort a president or a government party.’” And more:
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is selling the same story, saying “until very recently, Congress typically raised the debt ceiling on a routine basis . . . the threat of default was not a bargaining chip in the negotiations.”
But the Journal helpfully refutes this nonsense as “simply untrue.” Congress has lifted the debt ceiling 53 times since 1978, and of those 53 times, less than half had no conditional legislation involved. In most of these cases, Democrats controlled Congress. On some of these occasions, Democrats used the debt ceiling debate specifically as a crowbar for legislation against Republicans. The Journal adds,
In 1979, a Democratic Congress increased the debt limit but required Congress and the president to present balanced budgets for fiscal years 1981 and 1982. In 1980 the debt limit, again increased by a Democratic Congress, included repeal of an oil-import fee. In 1985, the debt limit that was raised by a divided Congress included a cigarette tax and a provision requiring Congress to pursue an alternative minimum corporate tax in the next year.
So we should remember, “Republicans today are playing a role that has been played many times,” and most often by Democrats. Also, Obama himself voted against raising a debt ceiling when Bush was president. Yet on all those 53 previous occasions, whenever challenged or “extorted,” the negotiations went through and the ceiling was indeed increased.
What is actually unprecedented, then, is a president who refuses even to discuss any negotiation unless he gets his way up front. This fact was noted, ironically, by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:
Obama will be “the first president in a long time who won’t negotiate with the opposition to try to raise the debt ceiling.”
“Why is the president so firm right now in saying he doesn’t even want to talk to the speaker or any of the Republicans to work out a deal to raise the debt ceiling?” Blitzer asked. . . .
Then he added:
“Very quickly, remind us why the president as a senator voted against raising the debt ceiling,” Blitzer said.
“The president voted against raising the debt ceiling as a senator to make a point about what he believed were wrong fiscal priorities of that administration,” Carney replied
There are geese, and there are ganders.
The Carney/Obama rationalization for then Senator Obama applies just a rationally to today’s Republicans, the Journal explains:
Trying to separate ObamaCare from the debt limit, President Obama has asserted that his health law has “nothing to do with the budget.” His argument is eagerly echoed by an at-best ignorant media. [But,] The Affordable Care Act was passed under “reconciliation”—a legislative process that is used only for budget measures and which limits congressional debate.
And thus the article concludes,
The notion that legislation passed as part of a budget might be reconsidered as part of subsequent budget legislation should be uncontroversial. Perhaps that is why the administration has staked so much on its misrepresentation of history.
Right. But like I said, this is a baby step. Remember that many Republicans are uneasy with their position. I suppose that even most Republicans don’t want to highlight too much of the real history. Doing so could be used against them in the very near future. For the real tragedy is the real precedent involved: there has been a consistent and bipartisan program to raise the debt ceiling 53 times since 1978. That means Congress has overspent itself an average of 2.8 times per Congress in that time. During the same period, we have descended from $1.8 Trillion (inflation adjusted) in debt to another unprecedented figure, $16.7 Trillion in debt.
Seems to me that the real problem is the historical, bipartisan endeavor of runaway spending. In this sense, the grounding of NASA is a fitting symbol. The Federal-Industrial-Financial complex, which includes its enablers in Congress, has been blasting the debt ceiling into out space for decades. It’s time it stopped.
Someone has to throw on the brakes somewhere, and here appears as good as anywhere—especially considering the historical precedents. And this means that those few TEA party Republicans who wield seemingly disproportional influence are the real heroes here. We need more of them, and we need even them to grow more consistent as they go, too.