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Hullabaloo


Friday, January 04, 2013

 
Conservatives refusing to pay their own bills

by David Atkins

When conservatives inevitably attempt to extract concessions from Democrats in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, it will almost certainly be portrayed in the traditional press as a case of Republicans getting what they want (cuts to earned benefit programs) in exchange for something Democrats want (an increase to the debt ceiling.)

However, Greg Sargent and Jamelle Bouie do a good job of explaining why that framing of the situation is so unreasonable. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling doesn't prevent the government from spending money or increasing the deficit. The government won't shut down as a result. Failing to raise the ceiling simply means that the government cannot pay out on obligations it already took on. Those obligations include not only payments to foreign creditors, but also to domestic bondholders as well. Social Security and Medicare recipients would fail to receive their checks, federal employees would fail to be paid, and the full faith and credit of the United States would be called into question by our own Congress, thereby doing more damage to the economy than any ratings agency downgrade. None of this should be treated as a matter of political negotiation, nor was it ever considered a matter for partisan negotiation until very recently. Failure to increase the debt ceiling doesn't hurt Democrats or Republicans--it hurts the entire country and the world economy.

What that in turn means is that when Republicans attempt to extract concessions from Democrats in exchange for raising the ceiling, it won't be a matter of political negotiating but one of blatant hostage-taking. Worse, it will be hostage-taking in order to enact conservative priorities that just recently failed in the marketplace of ideas that was the 2012 election. Republicans hold the House due to gerrymandering, but well over a million more voters preferred Democratic House candidates. And as a matter of pure politics, the hostage drama takes on an even darker dimension. As with the fiscal cliff deal, it's entirely likely that whatever regressive legislation makes its way out of the hostage negotiations will be voted down by a majority of Republicans as being inadequately conservative, forcing Democrats to shoulder the burden of cutting Medicare and Social Security. That in turn will be gleefully used by the Republicans to run against those same Democrats in 2014. When the realities are taken together, this situation becomes less a matter of political partisanship than a matter of partisan piracy.

But even all of this misses a crucial point that Sargent and Bouie don't directly address: the fact that the spending Republicans already authorized but are unwilling to actually pay for includes federal disbursements made for conservative priorities. After removing the distorting effect of capital cities, Republican Congressional districts received an average of $111 million each from the stimulus. It was Republicans who supported the insanely expensive invasion of Iraq (a majority of Democrats voted against it.) It was the Republicans, obviously, who supported George Bush's budget-busting tax cuts. It was Republicans who primarily pushed for the radically expensive expansion of the boondoggle-filled homeland security apparatus. One of the many reasons that red states tend to be recipients of more tax money than they pay in is the large numbers of military bases in red states, which are themselves part of a big-government jobs program. Republican states and big ag contributors are the primary recipients of farm subsidy federal largesse, and the same goes for big oil subsidies. It's also worth noting that the sort of military and big corporate subsidy spending preferred by Republicans (to say nothing of tax cuts) does far less to stimulate the economy than does the stimulative sort of spending on the poor and middle class preferred by Democrats.

In short, Republicans have already raided the federal treasury for a huge portion of the money they simply refuse to pay the bills for now, choosing to pretend the issue is a matter of Democratic spending. This is not dissimilar to when Ronald Reagan exploded the deficit with tax cuts and military spending, forcing Bill Clinton to take steps to balance the budget while Republicans blamed Clinton for fiscal excess.

In this respect, the Republican position is to go on a massive spending spree, quit their jobs by decreasing revenue, and then threaten to throw the bills they racked up into fire unless their spouse stops feeding the kids.

There may be words for that sort of political philosophy, but it scarcely deserves to be called "conservatism."


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