Saturday, January 5, 2013

Republican Debt Messaging: Sifting Through the Droppings

Apropos of the GOP: a baboon sifting through elephant dung.

Don't particularly want to go all scatological on you, but listening to Republican messaging on the debt ceiling brings to mind an image of baboons flinging feces at each other (Do they even do that? Republicans appear to).

I was tuned into the Ed Show the other night on MSNBC, and he very effectively countered both the Republican talking points -- widely disseminated, apparently -- and the usual mainstream media's willful or otherwise buy-in of the misinformation.

Start watching at the 3:20 mark:

The key point to remember in the run-up to the debt ceiling "negotiations" is that it shouldn't be a negotiation between Congress and the president at all. It's a congressional internal affair to be handled by themselves. Why? Because raising the debt ceiling is a requirement of Congress in order to pay for appropriations they've already made. In other words, they've already set up the spending through legislation. When Congress runs out of money for the spending it has itself already arranged by its own passage of laws, it needs to use its other powers -- taxing or borrowing -- to pay for it.

How hard is that, media?

According to Investopedia:
A debt limit established under the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 that limits the amount of public debt that can be outstanding. The Statutory Debt Limit, or debt ceiling, prevents the U.S. Treasury from issuing new debt once the limit has been reached. However, the debt limit can be raised, and has often been raised, with approval from the U.S. Congress.
 It turns out that in 1917 Congress was trying to finance U.S. involvement in World War I. The resulting statute is still on the books today, and though it ostensibly limits the U.S. Treasury in issuing debt, it basically works as both a stop and an obligation on Congress to either collect money for its expenditures or stop spending.

Now, if Congress wants to cut spending to bring down the deficit, fine. That's not only their prerogative but also their responsibility. So when various Republican congresscritters say things like "what Obama wants is a blank check to spend unlimited amounts of money on anything he wants," they're making stuff up.

I'm not suggesting it's a good idea now to cut spending, as a strong case has been made by leading economists that cutting government spending during a recession or a weak recovery is counterproductive. I subscribe to that view, but this post is about how Congress works, not what it should do.

Congress has, over the last thirty years, starting with Reagan's appetite for tax cuts and defense spending and continuing through George W. Bush's appetite for tax cuts and unfunded war mongering -- all of this authorized by Congress, by the way -- built up tremendous debt. Either this money never should have been spent or taxes should have been raised to pay for them. But, hey, too late now.

The main thing the media needs to focus on is that the Republicans want to make this the president's problem when it isn't. They also don't give a damn about the federal debt. Hell, they've been as responsible as any in running it up. Republicans simply want to keep taxes low for the rich while cutting entitlements -- vital to the poor and middle class, especially the elderly.

And they want the president or the Democrats to propose these cuts as part of a Grand Bargain, so that Republicans don't have to own any of these entitlement cuts, which they plan to then run against in 2014. Worked in 2010, should work again.

Unless President Obama and the Democrats in Congress call them on this cynical ploy, which so far, they have. Now let's see if they stay strong in their resolve and if the media reports it the way it should be reported.

That will require the media to sift through Republican droppings. Dirty work, but someone has to do it.

Baboons like elephant dung, but we don't have to.

Note. Of course the president does have a role in legislation: he can sign or veto laws. So of course the president can let Congress know what he's likely to sign or veto. That doesn't mean he's obligated to. He doesn't have to sift through elephant dung. That's the Republican's job. It's their dung. Let them own it.

Update. I've discovered several articles that sort out solutions to this debt limit mess:

Eric Posner on Slate.

Bruce Bartlett on Economix.

Eliot Spitzer on Slate.

Jerrold Nadler D-NY, as reported on

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