Common sense or debt trap?

Articles like this make it seem like the GOP might not have the stomach for pushing the United States to another credit rating downgrade:

“Next week, we will authorize a three-month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget,” Cantor said in an emailed statement.

“If the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay,” he said on the last day of a House Republican retreat in Williamsburg.

That proposal could be a good thing, but I’ve learned to be skeptical. There’s almost always another story between the lines if you look for it. Cutting off Congressional pay is, frankly, pandering to low information voters that believe cutting off $150k per year paychecks to a Congress where the median networth is like $1 million, is going to change something.

It won’t.

You could put most of Congress on minimum wage and almost all of them wouldn’t notice what had happened until they got sick, and went to pick one of their 7+ awesome health insurance plans that the government provides to them (and denies you) for free.

What worries me is that the real plan the GOP came up with at their retreat is to turn a yearly hostage taking into a quarterly event. They’ll pass a three month extension of the debt ceiling now, supposedly to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget. But the reason we’ve not been passing budgets these past few years is because the House won’t accept anything the Senate passes, even if it’s bi-partisan in the Senate just like the tax/fiscal cliff deal was. And a lot of the GOP/Ryan budgets have been so ridiculous that nobody takes them seriously.

I imagine a plan might work like this:

Step 1. Pass a three month extension of the debt ceiling, so that the House and Senate can pass a budget. Don’t promise to pass a full year extension even if a budget becomes law.

Step 2. While fully controlling the House, refuse to pass any budget the Senate passes no matter what it is. (This is what the GOP did during the stimulus debate. We already know for a fact that they decided to oppose it no matter what, even before the President went to see them personally just to pitch his ideas.)

Step 3. Three months from now, refer to Step 1 to show how reasonable Republicans were and how they should get their way now: no new debt ceiling without economic-crippling spending cuts. No cuts, the we default, causing a global depression.

Step 4. If the GOP gets the cuts, repeat Step 1 three months later with another temporary extension.

I consider myself a pragmatist, which means I hope for the best and expect the worst. So I hope that this idea is the moderate wing of the GOP continuing steps they took during the fiscal cliff/tax fight to seize control over the party, that this proposal is what they say it is. But I expect the other shoe to drop eventually.

* * *

Krugman shared his thoughts on this this morning and I wanted to get my own down before reading his, because so often my views are shaped by his arguments (because his arguments are usually reasonable and therefore should be quite persuasive to any open mind.) He took a different tack than I did, but what he’s saying kind of reinforces an argument I’ve been making in fiscal debates this week:

One faction basically wants to use the party’s power of obstruction: threaten to provoke a crisis over the debt ceiling – in fact, do this again and again – and thereby force Obama to implement the GOP agenda.

I’ve been saying all week that these temper tantrums/hostage taking situations we keep having to deal with are the result of Republicans making arguments for their ideas to the American people and then losing elections, and then the GOP tries extortion to force the majority to implement their agenda for them, an agenda that’s rejected by the public in polls as well as during elections.

Back in 2006 or 2007, probably 2007, Nate Silver compared public poll results to the policy positions of the two parties on major Democratic issues. He found that in most cases, the public sided with Democrats. Now, this was a while ago before many of those issues got trashed in the media (not by the media, but by a parade of Republican officials who usually outnumbered Democrats on cable shows by 2-to-1) and eventually abandoned by Democrats. But it helps to remember that a majority of the public supported the stimulus in 2009, and supported most of the 2007 Democratic agenda. (Then the recession hit and things like the Employee Free Choice Act went out the window in favor of TARP.)

I think that’s the case today and the only thing that’s stopped me from saying so is that I don’t let conclusions lead me to data. I have a theory, and the right thing to do with it is go out and try to disprove it with data. That takes time, even if it’s not particularly hard (just gathering polls, really). Sometime in the near future I’m going to do what Silver did, and compare Dem/Rep positions to public support to see if the public still largely sides with Democrats on the issues of the day.

We already know that the public sided with Democrats on raising taxes on the rich, and opposed Republicans in cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Krugman’s note in his story that all but 10 House Republicans voted for Paul Ryan’s budget that would have cut those two programs, when polls show overwhelming public opposition to benefit cuts, is an important piece of evidence supporting the accusation that Republicans are trying to implement their failed and rejected agenda through extortion.

Now is the time to do it, so look for it soon.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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