I stole this post's title from Paul Krugman:
Oh, boy. This isn’t going to end, even when or if a deal is reached on defusing the austerity bomb; John Boehner has just declared that he’s going to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage every time we hit the debt limit. Nor will it be a case of holding the nation at gunpoint until it meets GOP demands; Republicans are signaling that they don’t intend to make any specific proposals, they’re just going to yell and stamp their feet until Obama soothes them somehow.
Krugman is right, and there are several points I want to make. The first is that the Bush tax cuts were always scheduled to expire, and the reason was because of fears they would explode the federal deficit, which they did.
Originally, they were scheduled to expire after ten years, but Barack Obama agreed to a two-year extension because he couldn't get Republicans to agree to anything without their precious tax cuts for the rich.
Now, I'm still unhappy about that, not really because of the bargain Obama had to make, but because Congressional Democrats were too timid and too inept to separate the tax cuts before the 2010 elections, in order to vote separately on cuts for the middle class. Honestly, the Democratic Party can be absolutely infuriating sometimes!
But Bush's tax cuts were wrong to begin with and they're wrong now. Trickle-down economics does not work. After George W. Bush, we certainly have enough evidence now to say that. Everything we were promised about these tax cuts - that they wouldn't overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and that they wouldn't balloon the deficit (indeed, we were told they'd cause the deficit to completely disappear) - was a complete and utter lie.
And I'd have absolutely no problem with the middle class cuts ending either, although that might not be optimal in an economy as weak as this one. But this 'fiscal cliff' isn't just these tax increases, but massive spending cuts, too. And while we're still trying to climb out of the Bush economic collapse, that's really not a good thing. Not if you care about America's economy, at least.
But here's the deal: Republicans had no problem with these massive government deficits when they created them. They started two wars for no reason and, for the first time in our history, without raising taxes to actually pay for them. They actually cut taxes, especially for the wealthiest of the wealthy.
They increased spending, especially on the military but also for such things as the Medicare drug benefit - without paying for it. Well, Medicare was - and is - popular, while tax increases were not. War was a popular spectator sport, but paying for it - and being drafted to fight it - was not. You get the idea.
As Dick Cheney said, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." And they really didn't matter, not to Republicans, not until the minute a Democrat was elected president. Meanwhile, of course, their policies had collapsed our global economy in the worst economic crash since the Great Depression (which automatically increased government spending and decreased tax revenue - that wasn't Obama's fault, since those policies were passed long before he took office).
Today, we just had an election which Republicans lost big-time. America soundly rejected their policies. Polls show that Americans - by nearly a two-to-one margin - support the Democratic Party's approach for balanced deficit reduction, with both spending cuts and tax increases. (Indeed, the American people seem to be far more progressive than the Democratic Party, wanting more in tax increases and less in spending cuts.)
As his proposal to avoid the 'fiscal cliff,' Barack Obama has apparently suggested $1.6 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy, along with spending cuts, a permanent debt ceiling increase, and minor stimulus spending, or "almost exactly what was in the president's budget proposal last February, Republican aides said." (I can't find any details from Democrats, since the proposal was supposed to be confidential, for some reason.)
So, what have Republicans proposed in return? Nothing. Is this how you negotiate? Is this being serious at all? If you don't like what the president proposed - which they wouldn't, no matter what - make a counter-proposal. But they haven't done that.
Keep in mind that Barack Obama's proposal is exactly what he campaigned on. (This isn't like the GOP's Medicare strategy.) Yes, that was basically his proposal last February, and Republicans rejected it. So he campaigned on that and he won an overwhelming victory. So why shouldn't he propose to do exactly what he said he'd do, exactly what the American people elected him to do?
Taxes are already scheduled to go up. Taxes will go up, on the wealthy and on the middle class, unless Congress acts. If Congress does nothing, taxes will go up. Well, Republicans seem to be willing to let taxes go up for the middle class, if the rich have to pay anything extra at all.
And if they have an alternate proposal to make, where is it? This isn't governing. It's just, as Paul Krugman says, a "rolling tantrum."
Now, right-wingers like David Gergen suggest that Republicans are doing great for just considering maybe accepting some unspecified tax increases on the wealthy:
Remember that Republicans haven't voted for significant tax increases since 1990 -- 22 years ago. To get them to the point where they seem prepared to accept as much as $100 billion a year in new taxes, aimed at the affluent, is remarkable.
But if that's true, where's their proposal? That isn't a proposal, it's just rumor. And then there's this:
Obama has insisted that the first new revenues come from raising tax rates on couples who earn above $250,000; Boehner has insisted that, no, they should come from limiting personal deductions and closing loopholes.
Remember that this was Mitt Romney's idea, too. (And remember that Mitt Romney lost the election. It wasn't even close.) "Closing loopholes" sounds nice, until you come to which loopholes you plan to close. Mitt Romney refused to say, and so do Congressional Republicans. That's because they're not serious. Saying that you're going to close loopholes is politically popular. Actually doing it wouldn't be, certainly not for the people affected by it.
If you're going to raise taxes on the wealthy, why not just raise taxes on the wealthy? You could always close loopholes later, if you want. But the reason Republicans oppose raising tax rates is because that will actually work. Raise tax rates on the wealthy and the wealthy will pay more in taxes. On the other hand, closing loopholes will inevitably affect middle class tax-payers more than the wealthy, especially since it's the wealthy who can afford tax lawyers and lobbyists (and big campaign donations).
But again, if Republicans disagree, where's their proposal? What, specifically, do they propose to do? Other than to throw a tantrum, I mean.
And lest you think that 'tantrum' is overly harsh, Speaker John Boehner also promises that Republicans will hold America hostage every time the debt ceiling is raised:
"It's the only way to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would if left alone."
Remember that debt ceiling debacle last year, which put the economic recovery off for months and caused America to lose its high credit rating for the first time in our history? Standard & Poor's (hardly a liberal organization!) explained that they lowered our nation's credit rating because this had become a political football:
More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon.
Now, Republicans plan to do that every year. Yes, they lost the election big-time. The American people rejected their policies. So now they'll just hold America hostage to force their policies on us. Well, this is a lot like they've been behaving ever since Barack Obama was elected, isn't it? And even before that, they've worked for years to deliberately bankrupt America, as a way of forcing a smaller government on us, a government so weak they could "drown it in the bathtub."
Yeah, if you don't get your way in a democracy, take hostages. If they can't see how smart you are, force your views on the people.
(If you counter that the debt ceiling increase has long been a political football, well, yes, both political parties have used the occasion for political rhetoric. But previously, it was obviously just political rhetoric. Credit rating agencies didn't take it seriously, because there was never any doubt that America would pay its bills. Such rhetoric might not have been admirable - duh, it's politics! - but no politician seriously proposed that we wouldn't pay for what we'd bought.)
In a democracy, you can always present your own ideas to the American people. You can support anyone you want, or even run for office yourself. But you don't always win. Sometimes, the majority disagrees with you. Sometimes, the other guy wins. That's OK, because there's always the next election. That's the whole point of a democracy.
You don't pull out a gun and take hostages, if you don't get your way. Hey, I was mad as hell at my fellow Americans for George W. Bush. I suffered through eight years of a president who seemed to do his best to destroy our country, ending with two ongoing wars and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
But I didn't try to hold America hostage. I expressed my views, but I didn't try to use force. So I have no sympathy for Republicans throwing tantrums today, none at all.